Life Update, November 2023
Cold, extremely fucking cold, rain pounds on me as I make my final steps towards the chapel in Muxia, Spain. The Santuario de la virgen A Barca is the final destination for many pilgrims having walked the Camino de Santiago from somewhere in the world. My pilgrimage began in May/June and now, 2900 kilometer later, I am finally there.
Coming home is scary for a number of reasons. First, there’s simply the reality of having spent the past three months mostly sleeping in hostels (“albergues” as they are called in Spain, “gites” in France), having slept next to other pilgrims, showered next to them, worn the same three T-shirts and the same pants every day. Will I adapt back to “normal” life?
But then there’s also this other thing. A decision made on one hot (42°C, 108°F) summer day in the Meseta, Spain’s High Desert.
Health Communication sucks. At some point in the not too far past, we gave up. Left it to the “lifestyle” magazines and, more recently, TikTok and Instagram. An “expert” today is a person in scrubs or coat, blaring bite sized half-truths into a portrait mode 60 second clip, with the “important” parts outlined in bold letters in the lower thirds.
Joe Rogan and others abuse this, to communicate a non-reality, stuffed with falsehoods and sometimes outright dangerous recommendations. And, to be fair, their success is a dire warning that the world, its denizens to be precise, are thirsty for health communication and to be supported in their choices and hopes for a better and healthier life.
In short, our failure to effectively communicate, a failure carried by us but also insurers and politicians who do not see the need for broad availability of personnel and time, opened a gateway to hell from which creatures like Rogan but also troves of pro-steroid use, pro-obesity, anti-vaccine, and other abominations crawled and conquered.
I don’t think I can change this. As Eisenhower once said, a genius sees the problem, a fool thinks he can fix it by himself. I am not a genius, but also hope not to do foolish things too often.
I have a niche. I love quantified health, have been practicing it since 2002. I’ve lifelogged my life since then, blogged, journaled, spreadsheeted, python’d, analysed, and compared my days, weeks, and months. Much has happened in the past 21 years in this space. Today, my watch knows about my HRV and VO2max, my sleep, my exercise, even how fast I breathe at which altitude and elevation change. My phone logs my food, my sensor transmits my blood glucose to my phone, and together with exercise data, I can pinpoint when to eat and when to fast.
That’s incredible data overload. Too much for anyone but the most dedicated athlete or quantified health nerd. And that’s where more communication comes in: we need to find solutions, using recent technologies, to analyse and communicate those things. We need to make physicians more computer literate, allowing them to quickly collaborate with users to point out pitfalls, detect markers of illness or injury, and recommend paths to health.
And that’s that decision: let’s do it. Let’s have intelligent conversations with app makers, physicians, big health tech corporations. Let’s point out and shame those, who walled garden their data, and let’s celebrate those, who open it to those whose data are collected. Let’s create tools to aggregate and analyse those data. Let’s create awareness of everyday tools to measure and celebrate one’s fitness and health gains. Let’s not start at “goes to the gym” and end at “runs ultramarathons” but reach those, who need those tools the most: the elderly, the frail, the chronically ill.
No one is better qualified to give medical advice than physicians in direct communication with their patients. Not a TikTok “Doctor,” not a lifestyle magazine, and definitely not Joe Rogan. But to make this happen, we have to make physicians more computer and technology literate, show them, that these technologies are not the enemy trying to take their jobs, but a tool like ultrasound or x-ray, like an immunoassay or a blood culture. And help people, or communities, patients, and friends, to develop a resilience against this kind of non-advice advice that permeates the ether and often stifles, sometimes even worsens, healthy lifestyles.
In the coming weeks, that’s my “job” - create those tools to take to physicians and the community at large. I am not a fool, I know I can’t do it alone and I can’t do it well enough. So, in good old scientific fashion, I am setting out to collect the knowns, to point fingers at the broken, and to celebrate the solutions that work. And that’s what 2024 will be for me, a journey not into my own health, but more so into how to effectively communicate the things that help everyone to gauge what makes them healthier and what hinders health.