As has been well reported through both informal articles and scientific studies, health tracking is one of the best ways to encourage wellness in patients. Self-monitoring wellness services such as Myfitnesspal, Noom, Fitbit, and the Apple Watch are popular choices in the market today. These advanced tech tools allow an individual to easily keep a record of exercise, diet, and other health-related factors.
However, there are some people who have utilized more basic methods for tracking health metrics over time.
This week, I had the pleasure of (virtually) sitting down with Reid Moorsmith, an anthropologist and public health professional who now serves as the Director of Consumer Products for Hyfe, to discuss his unique and impressive health journaling practice.
Ben Richardson: So Reid, can you tell me a little bit about how you got started with health journaling?
Reid Moorsmith: Way back in 2015, I was at a New Year’s Eve party with some friends and family in Yangon, Myanmar. I was talking with a friend who told me about his own health journaling practice, which consisted of him utilizing an Excel spreadsheet to track his exercise progress.
Seeing as it was New Year’s Eve, we’d both had a few drinks at that point. Somehow, over the course of our discussion, I became enthralled with his method and decided that the next day I would try a similar tracking strategy myself.
True to my word, I woke up the next morning and started tracking my health through my friend’s method.
BR: Did you start by using the same Excel spreadsheet as your friend? How does it work?
RM: My tracking method is very similar. However, I have made some slight modifications to fit my own needs a bit better.
Essentially, I have a tab on the Excel document that has a ton of different exercise categories. Each category has what I’ve termed a “coefficient,” which essentially allows me to create a points system. The points are awarded based on a system that loosely tracks the volume of exercise (for strength training) and the duration of exercise (for cardiovascular pursuits). Additionally, this points system accounts (again, loosely) for the perceived effort of the exercise session.
If I feel like I want to increase my fitness in one or more categories, I can use my spreadsheet to measure progress. For general, overall fitness, I can go by the total number of points achieved in a given time period. For specific areas of fitness, I can compare the specifics of that category of exercise.
BR: Interesting! Do you find that you have to adjust the coefficients very often?
RM: There have been a few occasions over the years where I’ve felt the need to adjust these measures slightly to be a better indication of my current exercise habits. When I do so, this change is reflected both retrospectively and prospectively. Also, I’ve tweaked the specific exercises themselves as my exercise routine has changed over the years.
BR: This sounds like a pretty rigorous practice. Do you document this information every day?
RM: Every day that I exercise, yes. I also have a similar tracking system for my alcohol consumption.
BR: How does the alcohol tracker work?
RM: Basically, I keep track of my average drinks per day and review that over time. My recent goal was to get my daily drinks down to below 2.00 drinks a day. I’m happy to say that I’m currently at 1.97, down from 2.05 in October of 2021.
So that basically gives you an example of how I can set monthly and weekly goals very easily through this method.
BR: I know that some people feel like lifestyle changes such as this are hard to maintain, as they may miss one day and then “fall off the wagon,” so to speak. Do you feel frustrated or disheartened if you aren’t able to log your information on a given day?
RM: At this point, it’s become fairly routine for me. If I miss a day or two, I just catch up when I can. No big deal. Also, I use different tools such as a Garmin watch and the Strava app to track my cardio. So if I can’t remember what I did on a given day, I always have a backup.
BR: You mentioned your specific alcohol intake goal that you recently achieved. What were your goals initially when you started tracking your health?
RM: I suppose I didn’t really have any goals when I started out. I kind of just wanted to see if I liked tracking my health in this way and whether or not I could stick with it. Before I knew it, a year had gone by, and I hadn’t missed any entries.
As far as my alcohol tracking goes, the example I referenced earlier is not a linear, long-term trend. It was a goal I set in October, and I wanted to achieve it. With the help of my spreadsheet, I was able to do so.
Exercise-wise, I set similar goals. While, of course, I want to increase my capacity in various areas of fitness, exercise is also a necessary part of my mental health and well-being. So, even if there are periods where I’m not setting specific, physical workout goals, I’m always achieving mental health objectives when I’m moving.
BR: I have to imagine that the COVID-19 pandemic affected your health journaling practice in some way. Can you speak to that?
RM: It sure did. However, the pandemic didn’t have an overall negative effect on my health habits; it just forced me to change the way I did things for a time.
Specifically, one of my favorite ways of getting cardio is through playing tennis. Obviously, I couldn’t do this for a few months early in the pandemic. But I was able to pivot by increasing my running and using an elliptical (which I bought to keep up with winter cardio).
Of course, the gyms were closed for a long time too. But there are many good, curious, and downright odd strength and cardio training routines available on Youtube. I used these and modified my routine slightly.
Surprisingly, with my change in habits, my fitness actually improved over the course of the pandemic.
BR: In closing, do you have any recommendations for someone who thinks that a similar health-tracking method could help them achieve a healthier lifestyle?
RM: For those looking to start a health tracking system, I would offer the following five recommendations:
- Keep it simple. You may look at my system and think it looks overly complicated, but it works perfectly for me. Or, you might do better using a pen and paper method. You might even start out with a simple “Yes/No” sheet where you indicate if you exercised that day or not. This is your health journal. Do it in a way that works for you.
- Recruit a buddy, if you can. Having someone else who is accountable to you, and to whom you are accountable is a great way to stay on track.
- Don’t expect any miracles from health tracking. There’s no magic pill for achieving your goals. Tracking your health measures can help you on the road to wellness, but you still have to do the work.
- Set a reminder. Until you’ve fully made health journaling a part of your daily routine, you might consider setting an alarm or reminder in order to keep yourself on track.
- Be honest with your self-reporting, but don’t beat yourself up. If you asked for half a glass of wine and someone tipped the bottle too far, you should still mark it down accurately. Again, this should be an honest reflection of your health habits.
Health journaling comes in all shapes and sizes. There’s no need for fancy equipment or advanced technology. Something as simple as an Excel spreadsheet can provide incredible value to those who want to start getting healthy but aren’t sure where to start.
Our thanks to Reid Moorsmith for his contribution to this article.