Health-hacking: it’s a numbers game

How Microsoft is helping the British and Irish Lions turn daily fitness stats into consistent success.


‘They’ve been plotting the downfall of Australia on the Surface Pro for the last six weeks.’ So said Will Greenwood, reporting live from the Lion’s Den for Microsoft’s recent event, Breakfast with the Lions.

Every day, each player in the British and Irish Lions squad is recording how he slept, how he’s feeling, any aches and pains and a range of other information into a specially designed health-monitoring app, developed by Microsoft and EliteEdge. The doctors, physios and support team use this quantitative insight to tailor each individual’s environment and regime to keep them in peak physical and mental fitness.

This degree of self-monitoring, and iterative optimisation might seem exclusively suited to the physically elite, but the fascination with self-examination has existed amongst us mere mortals for years.

Managing your measurements

‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ Socrates may have made this claim back in Ancient Greece, but it’s only recently that technology has caught up with our ambition to monitor, measure and analyse.

Before tools like pedometers, Wi-Fi scales and accelerometers, gathering personal data meant complex measuring and time-consuming record keeping. Not only did most people not have time for this, but it was also subject to inevitable biases, as Gary Wolf points out; you’re only going to record your mood when you’re in to the mood to do so.

Now we have tools that randomise and remind you to record your life- and health-hacking stats. The Lions app prompts the players to complete their assessment first thing before breakfast. Nicholas Felton, the father of personal data analysis and presentation, used a specially designed app for his latest annual report that buzzed him every 90 minutes.

Keeping track

Of course it’s not just the measuring that’s tough. Most people simply don’t have the time or mathematical prowess to take raw data and turn it into actionable insights.

Now, with tools like Microsoft’s HealthVault, which keeps all your health information in one place, and apps that have the algorithms built right in, making use of a life in numbers is within anyone’s reach.

The tools to tie it all together

Connectivity and mobile devices are the final piece of the health-hacking puzzle. Take the Lions app. Every member of the Squad has been given a Microsoft Surface Pro and Windows Phone, with the same modern Windows 8 user interface across all devices.

Powered by Microsoft’s cloud platform, Windows Azure, the players’ data is immediately processed so that players know if they need to visit the doctor, and the support team have they information they need to tweak the player’s environment to improve performance.

How the Lions health-hack

The Lions app is simple to use and optimised for touch screen. The players have enough to worry about, without having to fiddle with complex tech (and luckily touch-technology is great for guys with big hands!).

  • As soon as the players wake up, they are prompted to complete their daily morning monitoring
  • They use Wi-Fi scales to input their weight 
  • They’re asked how long they slept, how well and how they are feeling in an easy to understand rating system
  • On a simple anatomical drawing, they’re asked to highlight any injuries, stiffness or pain and any illness experienced in the last 24 hours
  • Depending on their input, they are told whether they need to visit the medical team before breakfast 
  • The medical and management team then get an overview, which they react to and monitor over time, meaning they spot sudden or dramatic changes sooner rather than later.

The power of numbers

Judging by the fixtures played so far, this new style of quantitative health hacking seems to be serving the Lions well. Modern technology has brought us in to a new, accessible age of self-tracking; just think what you could improve if you developed what Gary Wolf likes to call, ‘self knowledge through numbers.’

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