Health and Fitness Tracking Goes Mainstream
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Health and Fitness Tracking Goes Mainstream

Self-tracking has moved beyond professional athletes and data geeks.

By Betsy Morris
Thu, Apr 15, 2021 10:20amGrey Clock 4 min

Since September, Jeanette Cajide has armed herself with an Elite heart-rate variability monitor. And a temperature-controlled mattress pad. And a Levels continuous glucose monitor. And an Oura Ring that also measures heart-rate variability along with resting heart rate, respiratory rate and temperature. “Yeah, I’m a little crazy on the devices,” says Ms. Cajide, director of strategy and operations at consulting firm Clareo.

She’s got good reason. After returning to competitive figure skating four years ago, she won a national championship. Then last September, she broke her leg while landing an Axel jump. Ms. Cajide, who is 44 years old, competes again in eight weeks—against many skaters half her age.

She is trying to override nearly two decades as a “sedentary adult,” working in tech and investment banking. “I’m trying to make up for lost time. It’s me against time,” she says. “The sensors and data allow me to optimize for getting the most mileage out of my body.”

There is no escaping the Quantified Self movement. Measuring biomarkers used to be the preoccupation of extreme athletes and extreme geeks. No more.

“I think the attitude is shifting. The seriousness of the pandemic has made people realize that gosh, isn’t it a good idea to have a sensor,” says Michael Snyder, chairman of the department of genetics at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, whose research, among other studies, indicates data from smart watches—alterations in heart rate, steps and sleep—can be used to detect Covid-19 as early as nine days before symptoms.

Until relatively recently, health-minded people were excited to track their steps and heart rate. Now they can perform their own urine and blood tests, conduct body-fat scans and monitor their emotions. Soon they may be able to monitor their rate of aging to take steps to slow it down. Rings, watches, patches and apps that monitor biomarkers have taken off, buoyed by a pandemic that alerted everyone to “underlying conditions” they might not be aware of.

Fitness and tech companies, already adroit marketers, jumped on the opportunity, intriguing people like Ms. Cajide. They “have created this persona of somebody who’s striving and they’ve done a really good job of it,” says Joe Vennare, co-founder of Fitt Insider, which produces a newsletter and podcast and invests in health, wellness and fitness. Fitness-tech startups raised $2.3 billion in 2020, 30% more than the year before, according to market-intelligence firm CB Insights.

People who track their data are constantly sharing online. One recently tweeted a graph comparing her heart rate: “me walking alone, hauling it: 140 bpm vs. me walking normal with my friend: <110 bpm.” Another boasted that since he began wearing a sleep-tracking device, he has averaged 8.25 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. Another tweeted eight separate graphs of jagged green and blue lines with an ominous question: “Anyone have heart rate or respiratory rate peaks in the night that is DOUBLE their normal value? I don’t know if this is a medical problem or just the measuring device.”

Self-trackers often fixate on factors that might influence their performance. “It’s interesting to look at these things and learn about yourself. They can help you understand things you couldn’t unearth on your own,” says Chris Bailey, co-founder and chief technology officer of startup NatureQuant and an endurance mountain biker. He’s currently testing the Apollo Neuro, which isn’t a tracker, but is considered another bio-hacking device designed to increase heart-rate variability and optimize performance. Worn on the wrist or ankle, it is designed to reduce stress and recalibrate the nervous system using varying-frequency vibrations that can be programmed to make you more alert in boring meetings, focus better during cognitive or athletic activities and recover more quickly after physical exertion. Mr. Bailey’s early verdict: “It’s a little hard to tell. It helps with focus a little bit, maybe, but it’s certainly not something that 2Xes your performance.”

Individuals react differently to caffeine, pasta, late nights—almost everything. Last year, Whoop added a journal to its sleep-tracking app. In the journal, users can log more than 70 behaviors to see how, over time, they might affect sleep and performance. Activities include taking medication like Advil, drinking wine, reading before bed and having sex. In a podcast introducing the change, Whoop executives said users had frequently requested the sex-tracking feature. For some, sex can raise core body temperature which is counterproductive to sleep, the company explained, so you might want to take that into account the night before a big event.

As for alcohol: Not a good idea, according to Whoop. While many people think alcohol helps them sleep better, it disrupts the repair and recovery that is supposed to happen during slumber. It interferes with physically restorative slow-wave sleep and it “crushes” your mentally restorative REM sleep, Emily Capodilupo, now Whoop’s vice president data science and research, explained in a company podcast. It messes with your heart rate, suppresses recovery and increases the chance of injury.

When Ms. Cajide, the figure skater, heard about sleep tracking, she thought it was silly. “I don’t care what happens at night,’” she recalls thinking. Then she learned the significance of heart-rate variability—not heart rate, which is beats per minute—but the variance in the length of time between heart beats. HRV is a key indicator of how fit, recovered and ready you are to perform, and can be greatly affected by the quality of your sleep. “I went down the rabbit hole,” she says.

Now she wears a continuous glucose monitor—a patch attached to the underside of her arm. Its data displays on her phone, telling her what foods are spiking her glucose and how efficiently she is managing her energy. She programs the temperature of her mattress pad to gradually fall to 62 degrees in the middle of the night, to bring down core body temperature and thus positively influence her heart rate and HRV. So far it has gotten those metrics to their “best points mid-sleep ever,” she says.

She uses her Fitbit as an alarm clock because its vibration doesn’t spike her heart rate and scramble her metrics. Then she checks the data from her Oura Ring and compares it to that of her Elite HRV, “to make sure they’re giving me the same information.”

The information tells her how hard to train—whether she will attempt an Axel, the jump that resulted in her broken leg last fall. Her current program includes two. “On a good recovery day, I’m more comfortable taking risks,” she says. That is crucial because she has only recently recovered but competes again in just eight weeks.

Dr. Snyder at Stanford understands the obsessiveness. He wears four smart watches, two on each wrist, to figure out what variables are the best to measure and “also sometimes one will run out of batteries.” He believes Ms. Cajide’s kind of self-tracking is critical to the future of healthcare, saying, “If people really care about their own health, they are going to have to take charge.”

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: April 12, 2021



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Savvy travellers who plan their trips around dining at their destination’s most in-demand restaurants know that securing a reservation at a top Paris eatery isn’t an easy proposition on any given day.

Come the Olympics in July, when the city is flooded with tourists, one would expect the jockey sport to snag a table to be that much more intense. But that’s not necessarily shaping up to be the case. As of mid-May, Parisian insiders such as hotel managers, restaurant owners, and local luxury concierges reported that inquiries at sought-after spots were no higher than usual, foretelling a potential opportunity for visitors looking for a fine-dining experience during the games.

The time to book falls over the next few weeks given that many top spots don’t take reservations until one month before the dining date.

The Michelin-starred Jean Imbert Au Plaza Athenee and Le Relais Plaza, both at Hotel Plaza Athenee and helmed by the renowned French chef Jean Imbert, are two examples.

Francois Delahaye, the COO of the Dorchester Collection, a hospitality company that includes the Plaza Athenee and a second Paris property, Le Meurice, says that his regular guests who are visiting for the games and Parisians who frequent the restaurants know not to call too far in advance of when they want to dine.

Further, he doesn’t foresee reservations being a challenge at either venue or at Le Meurice’s two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Le Meurice Alain Ducasse.

“Booking for the restaurants won’t be an issue because people are planning meals at the last minute,” Delahaye says. “Also, the people who are in Paris specifically for the Olympics are here for the games, not to eat at restaurants. They’re not the big-spending clientele that we usually get.”

Delahaye doesn’t expect the kinds of peak crowds that descend on fine dining during Fashion Week each spring and autumn, for example, when trying to land a seat at the three eateries is nearly impossible. “People are fighting to get in,” he says. “You need to book through your hotel’s concierge, have an inside source, or be a hotel or restaurant regular.”

Several Paris luxury concierge companies echoed Delahaye’s perspective

Manuel de Croutte, the founder of Exclusive & Private, says that Paris regulars probably aren’t planning a trip when the Olympics transpire—from July 26 to Aug. 11—because they want to avoid the tourist rush. “We’ve gotten some reservation requests from people who’ve heard about us but not nearly as many as we usually get when the very wealthy travellers are here,” he says.

During peak periods like the French Open or Fashion Week, de Croutte says that his job entails making bookings for travellers who don’t have any other way to get into buzzy or Michelin-starred establishments.

“You’re unlikely to get a table at a see-and-be-seen place without knowing someone,” de Croutte says. “No one picks up the phone or answers email.” He says his team has established relationships with managers and owners of many of the hot spots in Paris and often visits them in person to land tables.

Exclusive & Private’s Black Book of Paris restaurant recommendations for Olympic visitors span a broad range, from casual bistros to fine-dining.

Michelin eateries include the three-star Le Gabriel at La Reserve, the two-star Le Clarence near the Champs-Elysee, and the two-star Le Taillevent.

Spots without a Michelin star but equally notable are also on de Croutte’s list: L’ Ami Jean offers traditional and flavourful southwestern French cuisine, Allard is a brasserie from Alain Ducasse, and Laurent serves French food to a fashionable set.

“My favourite neighbourhood for restaurants is Saint Germain de Pres,” de Croutte says. “You’ll find unassuming but chic names with excellent food and a great vibe. You can book with these places directly if you’re here for the Olympics, but don’t wait until the last minute because they will get filled.”

He also cautions that some Paris eateries are asking for nonrefundable prepayments for reservations during the Olympics.

“Be sure you want to go before committing and ask about the refund policy if you are charged,” he says.

Stephanie Boutet-Fajol, the founder of Sacrebleu Paris, says her bespoke travel company charges a lump sum of about US$750 to make all the restaurant bookings for the Olympic period, though the price varies depending on the dates and the number of restaurants that a client requests. “Reservations around the closing ceremony are harder to come by because that’s when more elite travelers are coming to Paris and want the chic restaurants that are always difficult to get a table at,” she says.

Meanwhile, chefs at some Michelin-starred restaurants share that they have tables available during the Olympics and welcome travellers to their establishments.

Thibaut Spiwack, for one, behind the Michelin-starred Anona, serving modern French cuisine, and the culinary consultant for the popular Netflix series Emily in Paris , says that he is open for reservations.

“My team and I look forward to sharing a culinary experience with new clientele that I hope will remain in their memory,” he says.

Spiwack suggests that travellers check out other worthwhile restaurants where he himself dines. For terrific wine, there’s Lava, and for Italian, he likes Epoca where the pastas are “divine.” Janine is the best bistro in town, and Prima wins for a pizza fix, he says.

“You have a lot of restaurants in Paris to pick from,” Spiwack says. “You just need to determine where you want to go, and book as soon as you can.”