The Ideal Collaboration: Digital Health & Exercise Research

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Use of digital health fitness devices and apps can be exciting and fun to monitor, but what does all the data eventually tell us?

Let’s face it, there are times when we can all feel a bit overwhelmed from a plethora of fitness technology that seems to come out weekly in the digital health space. This technology is aimed at trying to help individuals measure, track and improve various health outcomes related to diet, exercise, mood and even our sleep habits. “Fitbit” as an example, updated its line of products to help improve those outcomes and recently launched a new corporate wellness platform.

The development and use of all these types of devices and apps can be exciting and fun to monitor, but what does all the data eventually tell us? More importantly, what if anything, are these outcome measures telling us about the state of our own health and fitness?

What the research says

In order to answer some of these questions, it would be to our advantage to understand the exercise science research behind some of these key health metrics. For example, if you are one of the many people using a pedometer to record and track your daily steps and flights of stairs, what is a safe, beneficial goal in terms of daily or weekly cumulative steps and stairs climbed? This is where it’s important to have an idea of what the exercise science research has demonstrated.

Research by Krogh-Madsen and colleagues showed that dramatic physiological changes take place after just two weeks of decreasing activity level and using a pedometer can help prevent this.1 The subjects in this study were young, lean, healthy men who decreased their daily steps from 10,000 steps a day to 1,300 steps a day. As a result, subjects experienced an increase in body weight, a 7 percent decline in VO2 max (aerobic capacity), a 2.8 percent loss of lean muscle in their legs, and a 17 percent drop in insulin sensitivity after just two weeks of decreasing their activity by 8,700 steps a day. 

A second study demonstrated significant changes in body composition in participants who increased their steps to average more than 9,500 a day for 32 weeks.2 Subjects lost 5 pounds, 1.9 percent body fat and 1.9 centimeters from their hips. They also increased their HDL cholesterol by 3 mg/dL and lowered their BMI by nearly 2 points (participants increased their steps on average by 4,000 steps a day).

Research has also shown that pedometer users increase activity levels and Fitbit has reported their average wearer takes 43 percent more steps when wearing one of their devices.  Stanford researchers looked at pedometer use in 26 different studies and summarized the results in The Journal of the American Medical Association.3 Their results showed that pedometer users walk an additional 2,000 additional steps more than non-users, and their overall physical activity level increases by 27 percent when wearing a pedometer on a regular basis. 

There are many benefits to increasing daily steps and the same holds true when it comes to stair climbing. One study showed that climbing 8 flights of stairs (3x/day) at 75 steps per minute pace, over an 8-week period, significantly increased VO2max by 9.4 percent.4 The Harvard Alumni Study found that men who average at least eight flights of stairs a day enjoy a 33 percent lower mortality rate compared to men who were sedentary — and that’s even better than the 22 percent lower death rate men earned by walking 1.3 miles a day.5

How the research applies                                    

Now that you’re armed with this new information, you may want to have a goal in mind and start building up to at least 10,000 steps and 8-10 flights of stairs each day to reap the health benefits demonstrated by what the research tells us. Digital health products are positioned to do just that.

Other areas of interest for many people include tracking strength levels and body composition changes. There are some great products and apps for both—as well as some intriguing apps that have also come to market that can help develop healthy habits and in turn make the user more accountable, helping them “commit to get fit.” One of those apps is called Nudge

According to one of the co-founders of Nudge, Mac Gambill, the product is a lifestyle health app that brings health and fitness data from apps and wearables together in one place to provide a simple, unified feedback system to help you live healthier.

“We let you sync your favorite health-related trackers, for example Fitbit, Runkeeper, or Sleep As Android, and give users easy-to-understand daily, and longer-term feedback for their overall lifestyle. Our Nudge Factor takes in data on four pillars of any healthy lifestyle—exercise, nutrition, hydration and sleep—and indexes it into a single score up to 110 to give the user a simple snapshot of how they are progressing. Nudge has also recently launched the NudgeCoach.”

It is an exciting time to be a player in the digital health game. From a technology and research standpoint, an individual has a better opportunity to develop healthy habits while making an impact on their health and fitness levels faster and smarter than ever before.

About the author: Michael Wood, CSCS, is a nationally recognized fitness expert and Chief Fitness Officer at Koko FitClub, a digital gym with more than 130 clubs open across the country. You can follow Michael on Twitter at @michaelwoodspg and on and


1. Krogh-Madsen R, Thyfault JP, Broholm C, Mortensen OH, Olsen RH, Mounier R, Plomgaard P, van Hall G, Booth FW, and Pedersen, BK (2010). A 2-wk reduction of ambulatory activity attenuates peripheral insulin sensitivity. J. Applied Physiology, 108(5):1034-1040. Retrieved from

2. Schneider PL, Bassett DR, Thompson DL, Pronl NP, and Bielak KM (2006). Effects of a 10,000 Steps per Day Goal in Overweight Adults. Am J Health Promotion 21(2): 85-89. Retrieved from,f1000m,isrctn

3. Bravata DM, Smith-Spangler C, et al. (2007). Using Pedometers to Increase Physical Activity and Improve Health. Journal American Medical Association 298(19):2296-2304. Retrieved from

4. Kennedy RA, Boreham, CA, et al. (2007). Evaluating the effects of a low volume stairclimbing programme on measures of health-related fitness in sedentary office workers. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2007) 6, 448-454. Retrieved from

5. Lee IM, and Paffenbarger RS (1998). Physical Activity and Stroke Incidence: The Harvard Alumni Health Study. Stroke. 1998; 29: 2049-2054. Retrieved from


Why API's Are Critical to the Future of Fitness

Posted by Brian Hayden with Shapelog

New, digital products aren’t just disrupting traditional fitness companies. They’re making the industry bigger for everybody by blurring the lines between fitness, healthcare, and entertainment. Peloton is worth $1.3B, Fitness Blender has 33 million monthly viewers, and now every fitness company needs a digital strategy. This is good for consumers. As digital products - like apps - become cheaper to build, consumers see better, more personalized offerings.


This is the second in a two-part series on Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). If you missed the first part, “What is an API?”, you can start there for a basic overview on APIs and how they work.

APIs are critical to the future of fitness because they dramatically reduce the cost of developing digital products. You can make a lot of money selling digital products. Unfortunately, it’s also possible to waste a lot of time and money building digital products if you don’t leverage the growing API ecosystem.

Keep these six points in mind as you craft your company’s digital strategy:

  1. Think big. When digital products work, they make customers happy, and are insanely profitable. Scarcity thinking will lead to bad decisions that artificially limit your upside potential.
  2. Digital and physical products complement each other - they don’t compete. The stickiest products exist in both the physical and digital worlds.
  3. You don’t need to hit home runs. Fitness consumer preferences are fragmented and prone to fad - it’s better to embrace and plan for that fact, rather than fight it.
  4. Lowering the cost of creating digital products is the best way to guard against downside risk. Rather than making one big bet, it’s better to make many smaller bets.
  5. Simple apps can be powerful when they sit on a foundation of data - remember when Under Armour bought MyFitnessPal for $475 million?
  6. APIs decrease the cost of developing digital products by cheaply making huge amounts of useful data available for your consumption.

APIs Drive Down the Cost of Product Development

How much does it cost to build a great digital product? It depends.


APIs provide reusable building blocks that allow you to build sophisticated apps for the price of a simple app. It’s like cheating, but in a good way.


Data isn’t valuable by itself, we know this, but when APIs make actionable data available to more developers, the consumer wins. APIs provide a hook into datasets that already exist. By stitching data sets together, you get to stand on the shoulders of giants. Before you were constrained by not knowing about your user - now your only constraint is your own creativity.


Cycling Community Demonstrates the Business Value of APIs

The ecosystem of apps, physical and digital products, and experiences that the cycling community has built on the foundation of power meter data is the best example of how APIs enable creativity and product development.

By stitching together data from phones, heart rate monitors, watches, and power meters, we get companies like Strava, Wahoo, TrainingPeaks, TrainerRoad, Map My Ride, Zwift, Peloton, Soul Cycle, and a hundred others. Giving consumers more diverse and interesting choices helped the industry grow faster than any other.

Zwift built an incredible app to gamify indoor cycling that is powered by heart rate and power data. But they don’t make devices to measure those things - they pull in real-time data using an API. Could Garmin or Wahoo have built Zwift? Sure, but since that’s not their core business, the product would probably have been watered-down and less unique. Could Zwift make a power meter? Sure, but chances are it wouldn’t perform as well as the companies who focus on just that one thing.

Specialization makes the world more interesting. By tackling only a piece of the full experience, Zwift was able to put more resources into making a unique digital experience that consumers love.


If building fitness apps were cheap enough that you could create unique experiences for all of your user types, your product portfolio would be more interesting and more resilient. Users would be happier, you could be bolder and take bigger risks with each one, and the fitness industry would grow as a result.

Digital products blur the lines between healthcare, wellness and fitness and fuel growth in the fitness industry. The sooner we all get comfortable supporting and using APIs, the faster we’ll get there together.

If we all spend less developing products, build on each others APIs, and reallocate more resources to connecting directly with customers, the fitness industry will grow like the tech industry and the world will be a healthier, happier place.