The rise of wearables, food tracking apps, connected scales and smart apparel are all examples of a new culture of wellness (1) (2). For consumers, being healthy does not just mean ‘not sick’. It is becoming more of a daily pursuit, and self-collected data is a big part of it.
The greatest challenge for fitness companies will be to organize this new stream of information so that they can adapt to this cultural and societal phenomenon.
“In the next 10 years, most health clubs will have a data scientist on staff,” said Laila Zemrani, co-founder and CEO of Fitnescity, at the 2018 Club Industry Conference. “It may sound just as crazy as saying 10 years ago that you would have a social media person on staff.”
Consumers are using technology to make health an ongoing pursuit
Consumers have increased access to personal health and wellness data, whether it’s through wearables, food logs, connected scales, blood pressure monitors, heart rate monitors, blood glucose monitors, or practically any tool that can collect data.
Wearables alone are projected to reach 105 million unit shipments and 3.33 billion U.S. dollars in revenue by 2022 (3). Millennial females alone spend over 200% more time in Sports, Health and Fitness apps than the rest of the population (4).
Similarly, fitness testing, which was once reserved to professional athletes and elite sports labs or weight loss clinics, is a booming practice, including among “casual” gym goers. A rising number of individuals are using professional, lab-quality tests for body composition and metabolic testing, aerobic capacity testing, blood testing, and even genetic testing.
Consumers want to take control over their health
Perhaps one of the very early signs of this transition was the rising popularity of online self-diagnosis; patients have started to turn to “Dr. Google” or tools such as WebMD, long before they show up to the doctor’s office, often with printouts and extensive notes about what they’ve learned.
Today, the doctor’s office is no longer the only place where individuals get to learn about their own health. According to a report by Aetna, 81% of Millennials say they would use a confidential website or app to track health information, and 40% already use an electronic diary to track health information (5). Perhaps the most staggering number is that only 41% of Millennials view their doctor as the single best source of information (6). Millennials are increasingly collecting wellness data on diet, exercise, sleep, stress, metabolism, body composition, vitamins, aerobic capacity, bone health, blood glucose and pretty much any other health or wellness indicator they can track.
Data-driven health is a societal and cultural movement that is here to stay
The Quantified Self, whose mission is to support individuals in making personal discoveries using everyday science, was perhaps one of the first groups to embrace and champion the concept of taking control over one’s health. A few years ago, Gary Wolf, known as the founder of the Quantified Self, gathered with Kevin Kelly and a few other self-tracking “pioneers” to create what was to become the first Quantified Self meet-up. The meet-up was meant to explore how people are using self-tracking to better understand their biology, fine-tune their training, optimize their nutrition and/or better manage a disease. Hundreds of other events have since been organized around the world, propelling the Quantified Self into a movement that has the potential to entirely change the way we view our health.
This group of pioneers have shown over the last few years that individuals can make significant discoveries about their own health using self-collected data from widely available tools. While collecting continuous glucose data to optimize nutrition can sound extreme to some today, it is very likely that many of us will be collecting this type of information over the next few years. Google’s smart contact lens for measuring glucose levels is perhaps one of the most anticipated health and wellness IoT (Internet of Things) technologies.
Fitness companies will need to turn the data into insights
Self-tracking technologies hold great promise for transforming both the gym experience and the health club revenue model.
As consumers get more control over their data, they feel more empowered, and tend to look more closely at outcomes. For instance, a member who works with a personal trainer and gets access to a health dashboard at home, with data on weight, muscle mass, fat mass, quality of sleep, metabolic rate or blood pressure, will be able to take the data to the trainer. The member will also become more proactive about his or her training plan, as opposed to passively listening to what the trainer offers. This is similar to the example of patients using Google, WebMD and health and fitness tracking data, and taking that information to the doctor’s office.
Similarly, a health club that uses the member’s data to prescribe a training or nutrition plan, or even just to personalize the member’s interaction with the health club, will very likely provide better value.
As consumers continue to embrace health and fitness technologies, health clubs who not only embrace these tools, but make them a key component of their strategy, will emerge as the winners.