What Do All Those Steps Add Up To?

by francine Hardaway on March 3, 2014

GERO from Gero on Vimeo.

If you know me at all, you know that for the past year or so I’ve been working at the intersection of the quantified self, wearable technology and health care. I’ve bought and tried the Pebble, Fitbit, Jawbone, Google Glass, Misfit Shine, Nike Fuelband, and Basis Watch. I’ve used Moves, MyFitness Pal, and other iPhone apps that count steps.

All of these wearables measure the same basic, parameters, although their interfaces may be very different. It’s always steps (or some variant of physical motion), calories, sleep, 02, and heart rate.

But what do all those measurements mean?

By far the most interesting company I’ve been working with so far doesn’t have a product at all. It’s Moscow-based GERO (http://getgero.com), a science company that has been studying human locomotion and what it reveals about aging and disease. GERO has been developing a platform to interpret the signals from all the data we collect about ourselves, especially from our movements.

Locomotion is a complicated process. As we age, our activity patterns remain remarkably stable in terms of activity patterns. But our patterns change. It turns out locomotion can tell us many things about how our bodies are adapting (or not) to aging, even when we are young.

“Locomotion is a complex technology based on environmental conditions, humans’ reaction to their environment and endogenous stresses. It has been proven to be an accurate way of detecting biological markers for human health, and is as good as genomic or transcriptomic data,” says GERO’s site.

Locomotor signals can tell you, for example, with 85% accuracy, whether you are going to get Parkinson’s disease. It can also diagnose sleep disturbances, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s before other detectable symptoms appear.

For obvious reasons this information is of value to individuals, health care providers, and in the aggregate to insurance companies trying to develop better actuarial tables.

GERO is now in the process of asking users of fitness trackers and smart phones to download its GetGERO app and participate in the study. What’s in it for the users? Personal information. And the opportunity to be part of a science project that may help us slow down the process of aging by helping us detect our risk factors in inexpensive, non-invasive ways.

Having been active all my life, I can tell you by intuition that locomotor signals have predicted my own aging, at least as well as the information I got from 23 and Me, and perhaps even better, because they have shown me not only my genetics, but how my genetics have expressed or failed to do so because of what I personally did in the way of prevention.

If you wear a tracker, I urge you to let GERO track your data for a few days. It can help us all.

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