It seems like every day, someone asks me what I use for “self-quantification”. After all, wearable technology that can quantify everything from your steps to your sleep to your stress seems to be taking the world by storm.
And I've tried just about all of them. Whenever a new one gets released, I feed my fascination with health tracking and self-quantification by guinea-pigging it on myself. When the very first Fitbit came out, I used it, and from the Tinke to the Timex MoveX20 to the Jawbone UP3 (which the world-famous Dr. Mercola recently waxed positive about in my REV Yourself conference), I've found benefits in each.
But ultimately, the darling of self-quantification is heart rate variability, also known as HRV. Ever since the day I learned that professional European football teams (*ahem*, that's soccer) relied upon HRV measurements to track the physical and psychological response to training, to plan the entire week's workouts, and to predict injuries and illness before they happen, I started to dig into this technology.
The result has been over three years of HRV articles and podcasts on this website, including the most popular and useful:
Peruse those links above if you know nothing about HRV. You'll come out the other side as an HRV genius. But perhaps you're impatient and you just want to start testing HRV, and throw in a few other forms of self-quantification too,such as respiration, energy, skin temperature, steps and calories burnt. If so, then keep reading, because I'm going to reveal the #1 health app to track your diet and fitness in 2015.*
*OK, OK, it's an iOS app. Android should be available in next couple months. So you can still keep reading if you own an Android.
Many of the HRV resources I just listed above included conversations with and information from SweetBeat, a company that I've always found to has been on the cutting edge of biohacking, and a company that is incredibly good at condensing all the “geekiness” of heart rate variability tracking into practical and easy-to-understand terms.
Earlier in 2014, I began working with SweetBeat to harness their technology into a new app, which I affectionately, appropriately and possibly even narcissistically have named the Greenfield NatureBeat phone app. I wanted an app that would not only allow me to understand the information presented in the data that I track every day, but also give me many valuable metrics all at once (such as HRV, stress, heart rate, weight, steps, calories, skin temperature, respiration, etc.).
Basically, the app uses either a bluetooth-enabled heart rate monitor or a patch called a “HealthPatch” (which you can grab from inside the app) to provide real-time measurements of your recovery and nervous system health using skin sensors and data correlation algorithms. It is the exact system that I use every morning to track my own heart rate variability, recovery status and training readiness. It also integrates and correlates data with popular fitness platforms like Restwise, MapMyFitness, Fitbit and Withings.
The “Monitor” screen on the NatureBeat app allows you to choose which feature you would like to use (Stress Monitoring, HRV for Training, or Heart Rate Recovery). After starting a session, the your metrics will fill the screen, showing you heart rate, HRV, stress level, and current mood.
The EKG-like heart beat trace is the first window you see when you begin tracking on this Monitor screen. By flipping this window around, you can see several other real-time features, including the stats screen, which shows all the metrics used in the algorithm calculations and then some (I call this the “geek mode” screen). If you're using the HealthPatch, which is literally a patch that you can stick on your body, you can also monitor your respiration, energy, skin temperature, steps and activity.
The “Graph” screen shows a real-time building graph of your heart rate, using what are called “RR Intervals”. When you turn your phone 90 degrees counter-clockwise, it will bring up this graph in landscape, and gives you real-time feedback about your heart rate activity. This is really the future of noninvasive monitoring of cardiovascular and nervous system health and performance, because it can even give you information about whether your heart is “skipping beats” or experiencing other electrical abnormalities – information you'd normally have to pay big bucks to go do a stress electrocardiogram test to get.
The “Correlation” screen uses an algorithm to correlate all of the data you collect about yourself, so you can see, for example, how you sleep correlates to your HRV, how your activity correlates to your food intake, etc. It's just a cool way to see in graphical format what how different aspects of your life correlate together, whether it's HRV, stress, weight, body fat or anything else you're quantifying with any other device.
If you look at the most elite athletes on the face of the planet, breakthrough performance is achieved by alternating periods of intensive training with periods of relative rest. Now you can do the same, but without playing a “guessing game” about whether you're truly recovered. Instead, NatureBeat uses algorithms to create a personalized reference line for you based on a single daily 3 to 5 minute measurement (preferably taken in the morning while you're lying in bed). Just like your own personal coach or physician, the app then recommends you to “train as usual”, have a “low exertion day”, or take a “rest day”.
And then there's the food sensitivity feature, which is very useful if you've ever wondered whether a food affects you negatively, even if you don't get a stark reaction to that food (e.g. do eggs or bread affect your nervous system, even if you don't get a stomach ache from them?) . To use the food sensitivity feature, you first take a morning reading of your pulse to establish a baseline for the day. Before eating a meal, you then record the foods in that meal and then do a pulse test. After you have finished eating, the app will prompt you to record your heart rate every 30 minutes until 90 minutes have passed. Once that testing is complete, the meal will either pass or fail for food sensitivity based on how your heart rate responded to that meal.
Need to know if you’re recovering properly? How a meal or food is affecting your nervous system and body? Whether your body is ready to go hard or whether it needs a break?
As you can see, this new app does all that for you.
Whether you wear it throughout the day, or simply do a 5 minute measurement each morning, the NatureBeat Heart Rate Variability Tracker app measures:
-Heart Rate Variability
-Steps and activity
-Anything else you want to feed into it from another app
Pretty cool, eh? Full disclosure: it ain't free. It's $9.99. So skip a couple lattes this week and try it out.
Finally, you should know that I'm fully aware of the debate about whether or not having a Bluetooth signal constantly humming about your body is actually good thing.
I suspect that, despite there being no firm evidence of any deleterious health effects of Bluetooth (unlike the evidence that glaringly exists for cell phones), I'm still cautious.
So I don't use the Greenfield NatureBeat app all day long. I simply use it for a 5 minute “check-in” each morning while I'm lying in bed, then whip it out every now and again when I want to see how stressful something is to the different branches of my nervous system (such as a food, an exercise or even a relationship).
For example, using this approach of only self-quantifying in the morning, then occasionally using the technology for other activities, I've discovered some really interesting data, such as:
-Barbell squats are the most stressful exercise you can do. Technically, as long as you don't overdo them, this is a good thing, since your body bounces back stronger when you send it that signal that there's a heavy lion jumping on your back.
-My heart rate variability actually drops (a bad thing) when I consume a whey protein isolate made from cows vs. a whey protein isolate made from goats. I suspect this is due to some kind of allergenic response to the larger protein size in cow whey.
-My morning resting heart rate variability gets amped up the very highest (indicating low stress and relaxation) if I've had sex the night before, and plummets through the floor if I've consumed an anti-histamine (such as Nyquil or Benadryl) the night before.
Anyways, I could go on and on, but I'm curious what you've discovered from testing your own heart rate variability, stress and health…
…so leave your comments below, and if you still haven't tried this ultimate form of self-quantification, then what are you waiting for? Click here to grab the app now. Happy tracking.