We’ve just wrapped up a health-themed month here at Topp. During this month we’ve tested wearables, tracked our sleep, set up challenges, started a running group, brought in a weekly yoga teacher to the studio and interviewed people about what motivated them to make healthier decisions. 

AS A TEAM WE’VE LEARNED FIRST HAND: 

Our joint activities gave us a great insight to our team too: we’re a team who respond to social settings, if an event was organised others joined and more events were created to repeat the success.

The problem was that the more we explored the field of Health the larger the concept became. As we wrap up this month, we invited personal trainer and medical student Lieutenant Emil Silfverberg, over for a raw food lunch to shed some light on the questions that rose from this experience.

Topp: This whole health thing turned out to be more complex than working out a few times a week.  How would you describe what being “healthy” means?

Emil : It’s hard to define health as it’s subjective; it’s about how someone feels. From a medical perspective it’s the absence of diseases, how functional the organs are, how much range of motion a person has and their mental state, among other things. Western medicine is very focused on solving problems when health issues occur, not so much about preventatively keeping people healthy. In my role as a personal trainer however it’s often the opposite, to prevent injuries for example.

Because health is subjective to how you feel, it’s hard to measure.  But you can measure progress from working out and monitor blood pressure trends as a measurement for fitness.

There’s a sliding scale of course, something that is healthy to you or in your location might be unhealthy in another. An extreme example would be sickle cell anaemia; in Scandinavia the disease is unhealthy because it lowers your blood cells ability to transport oxygen. However if you live in an area of the world where malaria is present, the same condition gives you advantages against catching malaria, and then the “disease” keeps you healthier if you have malaria. So it’s all subjective.

Topp: What do people need to be "Healthy"?

Emil: Primarily exercise, it’s natural antidepressant and lowers both blood pressure and cardio vascular disease. Diet and eliminating vices are other factors. Not all types of workouts are good for the body though.  While working out is good, overly strenuous training, like some elite athletes do, can straight out be damaging to the body.

Sleep is also key, you need about 7-9h of sleep per night. There’s not really one true answer as to why, but us mammals need sleep to stay healthy. When you don’t sleep your brain starts to become dysfunctional. For example, when I was in the military, there’d be times when we’d go long periods without sleep.  Physically you can cope with that fine; however, all your creativity goes out the window and you start making odd decisions.

Topp: As a personal trainer, what have you noticed motivates people to make a health habit change or continue on their health journey?

Emil: I’ve noticed that it usually comes down to body image; losing weight or gaining muscles. I also have running groups and there it’s about developing specific skills; how to plan your exercises and rest over time, how to work out when, with a specific goal (like a marathon) in mind. 

To see results is important, being able to lift more or run faster. For those that find working out a necessary evil, it’s about lowering the bar and finding a format of exercise that is the least evil. When you’re having fun and experience that euphoria of having finished a workout, it’s easier to come back. You can’t really tell what will motivate a person, but as a personal trainer I find that competing with yourself is in general a good strategy. The social aspect is important in the running group, to have someone that checks in on you. For myself, I tend to work harder when my coach checks in with me.

It’s important to be honest with yourself and track what really happens.

Topp: What can you do to sustain a healthy habit or overcome repeating past failures?

Emil: When it comes to working out I find that it’s important to set goals, but they need to be reachable goals. If the goal is too hard to reach and you continuously fail, that failure becomes the norm and you’re less likely to continue the effort. If someone I’m training doesn’t make a goal, then we set it aside and set a new, more realistic goal with the new information we have.  

It can also be that you’re not aware of what you’re actually doing, you think you have made a change when in reality you haven't. For example, I’d ask a patient at the clinic how much they workout and they’d give me a canned answer: three times per week. When I specify the question and ask how many times they worked out in the last month, the answer changes and it might be that they just worked out three times in that whole month. So it’s important to be honest with yourself and track what really happens.  

Topp: Finally, what would you advice us to do to continue this health journey?

Emil: Do healthy activities together with people you like. Try to find small lifestyle changes. Praise yourself!

4 INSIGHTS:

And, a design opportunity:

Health as a topic is too complex to have a one-size-fits-all solution, this means we need to create tools that cater to individuals and not target groups. Design tailored motivational health products by combining data on what users are actually doing (fitness and biometric) with tracking how they are behaving (locations, time and patterns) and responding to incentives.