The quantified self: hacking the body for better health and performance

1 Summary

The quantified-self movement is a community of individuals — sometimes called “body hackers” — deploying mobile health applications, fitness trackers and social media platforms to share information on their health behaviors like eating, sleeping, fitness and medication. These are shifting behaviors, and the movement also studies how those shifts affect health outcomes, moods or athletic performance. The movement’s growth is linked to trends such as lifestreaming, crowdsourcing, gaming, mobile health and the DIY ethos that has emerged over the past several years.

There are a number of devices and platforms used widely by quantified-self practitioners, including:

heart-rate monitors and fitness devices that track length of workouts, calories, time
sleep-tracking devices
wireless scales and blood pressure cuffs
social media platforms such as the Quantified Self blog and LinkedIn groups
data analytics and dashboard services such as

The movement is beginning to have an impact on medicine. When patients who have been using self-tracking tools appear at a clinical encounter with data from several months of tracking activities, it can have a profound impact on the encounter, which can be shifted to a more partnership-based model. But for this to happen, we will need to have better tools to facilitate clinician engagement with patient data as this trend accelerates. Organized communities of quantified-self practitioners also have a more prevention-focused ethos that is quite different from the traditional curative focus of biopharmaceutical companies. The large quantified-self platforms such as are demonstrating the power of the quantified-self movement to conduct legitimate research with traditional research entities.

More work on data policies and ownership may be important in the coming years as the movement takes off. As insights from these communities get translated into monetized products there will be a need to demonstrate benefit sharing and some form of commons-based production to share the benefits of the research and to ensure further engagement of participants and equitable benefits.