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Wearables and Fitness Technology

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Anshu Bahanda: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Wellness curated. This is your host, Anshu Bahanda, and the aim of this podcast is to highlight ideas, trends, techniques that will help you to lead a healthier life and to lead your dream life.

As you probably all know, in the last decade, there have been major changes in the way people perceive wellness. For me, wellness is a combination of physical fitness, mental wellness, emotional well-being and spiritual health.

Today, we’re going to talk about technological innovations, which means wearable devices, apps, gadgets and the like.

In the last two years that we were all going through this pandemic, the focus on technology has gone up manyfold. So I remember when we went into the pandemic – I’m based in the UK, and I have friends who are based all over the world – the gyms closed; and we couldn’t go out. So I started doing my yoga on Zoom, and that worked beautifully. My husband bought a Peloton; most of you probably know Peloton, but for those of you who don’t, it’s a bike that’s stationary, but you can do live sessions on it online. People were using all kinds of devices. People were using fitness boxing, Zumba, games, all kinds of devices. In fact, I did a podcast during the pandemic on a device called Apollo Neuro, which is a device that changes the condition of your health. So these devices, some of them are fun, some of them are life-changing, some of them, you know, people worry about. So we’re going to delve into all this today with our guests. We have today, nutritionist Neha Sahaya, fitness expert, Karan Khurana, and we have a fit-tech entrepreneur [with us] today, Armaan Khandari. He’s co-founder and COO of Portl Technology, which offers personalized health, fitness, and wellness [solutions]. Welcome to the chat, Armaan, Neha, and Karan.

Armaan Khandari: Thank you for having us Anshu.

Karan Khurana: Thank you very much.

Neha Sahaya: Thank you.

AB: Thank you very much. Thank you. And thank you for making the time to be here and talking to us. So, Armaan, I’m going to start with you. Since you are in the fitness technology business, tell me, what do you use yourself? What fitness technology do you personally use?

AK: I’ve had a very cliché sort of fitness journey – going from fat to fit. I was really overweight in high school and as a college kid. And then I did probably the first thing that everyone would do, [which is to] go to Google and start typing out various things on how do I lose weight or what are the best apps or services out there to actually use lose weight.

So, over time, I think I’ve used a bunch of apps: To name some, the Nike training club, I’ve used Strava as I used to run a lot. I’ve used MyFitnessPal to key in my nutritional habits, etcetera. I’ve also used lots of WOD generators, because I was also doing CrossFit. Currently if you ask me, I use the Apple watch, which tracks my work out, my progress. I also use the Portl mirror. But just to maybe spend another minute on that, one of the things that actually was lacking in the overall sort of fitness ecosystem back then, at least, was the level of personalisation that was available. It can be almost overwhelming that there are so many options out there. But are these options actually relevant to you as an individual? Are they relevant to your body type to your fitness goals? That was something that I was struggling to find a solution for.

And while it’s great to have so many apps and so many devices that give you hundreds of metrics, if you don’t know what to do with these metrics or if you can’t derive actionables from them, you don’t have a clear call to action, then, the point is lost. And most people who are fitness enthusiasts or say, who are just starting off their fitness journey… it’s not easy for them to actually go around these metrics and these apps. So I think these were some of the struggles that I had initially with a lot of these apps, and that is what actually led me to start on my own entrepreneurial journey in the fitness-tech space.

AB: I’d love to hear more about your Portl mirror. Tell me more about it.

AK: Absolutely. So I think, like I mentioned, right, so one of the biggest problems that we’re looking to solve for with Portl in general… we are a tech company. While the mirror is a flagship product today – it’s called the Portl Studio – our tech goes beyond just the form factor. So the problems that we are looking to solve for is a high degree of personalization at scale. Followed by actually giving you access to quality training at the convenience of your home. So a lot of the players out there today follow a one-size-fits-all approach, which is probably not relevant for, say, these markets as well. Right? Like, say, a certain app out there in the North American region might not be relevant to the Indian body with the lifestyle that we have, with the kind of nutritional habits that we have, the kind of training that we need vs the training that we get. So the Portl mirror itself is, if I have to explain it in simple terms, it’s your smart home gym with an inbuilt personal trainer.

So everything that a personal trainer does for you, which is setting your nutritional plan, setting your program, your schedule for the week, for the month, correcting your form and posture in real-time, and guiding you and motivating you throughout your workout journey, it’s all done by our AI systems and embedded sensors that we have in the mirror itself. So, essentially, it’s your one-stop solution for anything to do with holistic wellness.

AB: So, Armaan, do you never meet a human being or initially, you do meet a human being when you get a Portl mirror, in terms of setting up all this?

AK: Right. So you don’t really meet a human being. That is where the tech aspect comes in. So we have a very in-depth sort of onboarding process where we look at every user from multiple lenses. So every user goes through a four-step onboarding process— where the first step is you give us certain inputs about yourself: your height, weight, age, any underlying injuries and health conditions, what equipment you have access to at home, what your fitness goals are, etcetera. The second is an actual health assessment. So the Portl Studio comes along with a passive health monitor called the Portl Biosense. So that tracks six key health vitals from your ECG to SpO2, glucose levels, blood pressure, etcetera. This helps the AI systems actually set a health baseline for that individual. So, more importantly, what should not be prescribed to this individual in case there’s an underlying health condition? The third is an actual fitness assessment on the device itself – where the users undergo a basic fitness and an FMS test to test their mobility, range of motion, what their fitness levels, etcetera. And the fourth and the most important is the user’s actual interaction with the device. So Artificial Intelligence is something that only gets smarter if they have more data about that individual. So as in, when the user is sort of using the device, say, for a few sessions, we measure various metrics from their muscle imbalances, body imbalances, range of motions, physical strength, etcetera, and this goes in further to training the AI systems more about that individual. So this is the whole personalization journey. Having said that, if you opt for a premium plan, you also get once a month consultation with one of our in-house trainers.

AB: Okay. So, from what you’re telling me, the Portl mirror is your personalized trainer. And I’m assuming you have different workouts, in the mirror. Like, you’ve got dance, you’ve got yoga, and you’ve got training, and you’ve got conditioning, and strengthening, and all those, right?

AK: Yeah. So currently, we support close to 16 different workout formats. Everything, ranging from the traditional strength and conditioning, you have HIIT cardio, you have dance fitness, different forms of dance fitness, like tai chi, you have different forms of martial arts. You have MAC training as well, which is Martial Arts and Conditioning training. So there’s something in it for everyone. We have a lot of mobility-based work. We’re also venturing into remote physiotherapy, not post-surgical, but more sort of for basic injuries, etcetera. So it’s something which is relevant to most age groups, most fitness levels, most genders out there.

AB: Karan, I’m going to come to you now. There is something that bothers me about technology. And I wanted to ask you about this. So in today’s day and age, we have all kinds of vitals that are monitored by, you know, all kinds of devices. But even then, you find that people collapse like, you know, while they work out at the gym or during a marathon — I mean, I’ve heard of two or three different situations where people have just collapsed. And these are, you know, people we think of…they look fit. So, what is this? What is going on here?

KK: Great question. And I think there are a couple of things to keep in mind when these things actually occur. I think one thing that is often overlooked is the value or essentially the underplaying of stress on the body that can come in the form of overexertion, lack of sleep. It can also manifest itself over time. Any kind of unchecked underlying health condition can pop up if your body is under undue stress. I think while yes, you know, having apps that do monitor vitals is great in terms of tracking progress and, you know, really adhering to a fitness plan. It is one of many things… that is just an indicator of how you’re doing. It doesn’t tell you the underlying problems. It doesn’t tell you, for example, in a marathon if you’re dehydrated…that can lead to, you know, electronic imbalances, which can lead to – the cases you’ve heard about – people collapsing.

AB: So you provide one-on-one training, right? And you also have an Instagram page where you offer bootcamps and post challenges. You do workout regimens. So you obviously recognize the importance of form. So what is your view on fitness technology? You know, do you feel this is best monitored by a trainer or a combination? Or can we go the AI route, like Armaan’s saying?

KK: See, I think with all things such as this— balance is really key. I think there is a place for technology in terms of monitoring, and tracking, and adherence. There is also a place for AI-powered roll outs in terms of convenience, in terms of, you know, smart fitness, in terms of being able to really adapt based on your progress as you’re going along. Now, you know, personally, as well, I do use device fitness devices. I use two actually, at the same time. One is the Apple Watch, and one is the Whoop. Now I think these two things have different focuses for me. One is more about workout tracking. The other one is more about recovery, sleep and performance—overall and general health. Now, I think that there’s a certain time and place for an app – versus a trainer. If someone is starting out new, they may need some extra help, which way a trainer comes in, but you have apps like you know— Nike Run Club. If you’re a runner and wanna just keep, you know, doing that. You have Strava, which Armaan says he also uses because he used to be a runner. So I think there is a place for apps – and that’s great.

It just depends on how you’re using them, and you’re gonna really figure out which app is the best for you based on your personal goals. I think that’s the key thing because, you know, now there’s so much fitness tech everywhere. You have so many apps. It’s really about understanding your goal and which app really serves to help you attain that goal.

AB: Okay. Thank you for that, Karan. Neha, so with your nutritional training, I wanted to ask you. So fitness technology, what is your view on it? Can it go wrong? And if it can go wrong, how can it go wrong? So what can we warn our listeners about?

NS: Okay. You know, we need to take [the case of] an average human being. Now an average human, usually, when using apps, usually overestimates their workout and underestimates their calories. What does this mean? For example, if you have had two teaspoons of peanut butter when you put it in an app, you show a hundred calories, and then we try to adjust it and justify [our calorie consumption] to us that we have only had one teaspoon, you know. So that [in our minds] becomes 50 calories. When it comes to workouts, there usually options such as a rigorous workout, moderate workout, or slow workout. Honestly, very tick the last option, being a slow workout. They usually go for moderate or rigorous, so the calorie count [calories burned] looks higher. So I think we kind of get over-dependent and make ourselves feel satisfied by looking at these apps sometimes, and that is a big problem. So it’s very important to know that if you’re using an app, you should also get the kind of results that the app shows you.

So, if it’s showing you’re calorie deficit and you’re burning more calories or that calories in and out are well balanced, then it should translate as results in your body. And I’m not just talking about weight loss. It could be any goal: looking healthy, you know, glowing skin or controlling your diabetes — whatever it is, it finally has to produce that result. And I think, you know, honestly, for mental well-being it’s also sometimes not very good [to use apps]. Imagine that every time you eat, you’re putting it in the app. Imagine putting it in one potato, no, no, no I ate two potatoes today. Imagine doing that on regular basis. It can really take a mental toll on you. So I think apps are excellent to use if you can use them the right way. But the worst thing can be that you’re using them the wrong way and expecting results and then getting disappointed and getting mentally also bogged up with it.

AB: That is so true! We get so involved in breaking up that food and analysing it. That we forget that this is food. This is meant to be a pleasure. We’re meant to enjoy this. So thank you for saying that. Tell me, do you use any fitness technologies at all?

NS: Yes, I was using a lot of them – especially the Apple Watch, but now you can see I’m wearing a regular watch. Simply because I felt I was kind of over dependent upon it. Like, I saw that I burned 700 calories, and I kind of started telling myself if I have burnt 700 calories today, I’m justified in eating something. And, honestly, sometimes, you can leave your watch aside also and just lie on the bed and somehow the watch is somehow still burning calories, and you’ve just woken up from the bed, you know. So honestly, it doesn’t make sense sometimes. On saying that, it’s not like I don’t use it. Yes. I do sometimes put the calories in, you know, in the app, to see how much I’ve eaten on certain days. I also use the glucose monitor.

I feel all health issues are concerned with balancing your blood sugar levels, and it’s just not diabetes or pre-diabetes or insulin resistance. But overall well-being, you know, how fatigued you are, whether your hormonal balance is there, uric acid, is all related to your maintaining a blood sugar level. So I’m quite interested in keeping track. But again, it should not control your full life. You know, you cannot be obsessed – checking every two minutes how the food has reacted with your body. So if you’re gonna use an app, then just use it really sensibly towards your goal.

AB: Thank you for that, Neha. Armaan and Karan, so we talked about an app, MyFitnessPal. Right? So I’ve had a very interesting experience with that. Because, Neha, you said that, you know, I agree with you – it’s very difficult to put down everything you eat. That’s me – I can’t put down everything I eat. But I had a friend who was a size 16-18, a very close friend of mine. She’s tried everything. She tried lots and lots of different diets. She went to dietitians, all kinds of fitness regimens, she wouldn’t lose that weight. She’s had her bloodwork done. Finally, she used MyFitnessPal. Took her a year, she’s down to an 08-10 UK size. She’s looking incredible, and she’s feeling great. So, Armaan, why do you like MyFitnessPal?

AK: So, honestly, if I had to give my opinion on MyFitnessPal, it’s not something that I actively use currently. I did use it, yes, initially. But I think, like, Neha said as well, it becomes extremely hard to keep logging in what you’re eating on a daily basis, on a periodic basis. And after a point, people tend to drift away. At least that’s what I’ve observed, that unless you’re really, really motivated, or really have that level of interest and ambition. Specifically for us, right, because our diets are very different, where we have various kinds of Indian foods if you’re based from India, which is not very accurate on most of these apps. At least at the time when I was using it, it wasn’t the best solution.

AB: So, Karan, I wanted to ask you, you also mentioned MyFitnessPal. So tell me, why do you use it? Does it work for you?

KK: Sure. So like Armaan mentioned as well, I use it very, you know, very strictly. But when I when I started, I used it for about two years straight, every single day. That eventually caused me to drift up because I got a very good sense of my food by looking at it after a certain point. So I think it serves the purpose in terms of…it makes you understand portion control. You know, it’s not about a diet. It’s about how much you’re eating of what foods and what quantity that really makes a difference over time.

For my clients as well, I tell them to track their food for just one week. Just a week, put everything you’ve eaten down to get a sense of, you know, how much you’re eating and how full you’re feeling. And then, based on your goals, if you wanna either gain weight or lose weight, you can always adjust those portions from there. So it’s not a perfect app. I think I picked it because it has…it’s easy to input. It’s kind of intuitive in terms of you just weigh your food and put their own nutrients. But I think it’s great, for just understanding how much you’re eating really.

AB: Okay. Thank you, Karan. I also want to ask you, Karan, about the Apple Watch, which is, of course, I mean, it’s probably the most used fitness device, I would say, in the world. Are you satisfied with the results? Because there are issues with it: battery issues; it’s not cheap. For a lot of people, it’s an indulgence. Does it motivate people enough to work out? So, I mean, I have a trainer who shows up. And because she’s here, I have to work out, right? Would something like an Apple Watch be the same kind of motivation?

KK: So I think there are two things to consider here. The first is the extrinsic motivation you get from watching the Apple Watch rings close — that’s gamification. So I think that tends to motivate you to try to, you know, fill those rings up, essentially. In terms of am I satisfied with it, I think it’s a great way to ensure adherence and monitor general levels of fitness. As we have mentioned, you know, there’s no device that’s 100% accurate. You know it’ll give you a broad range of calories burned, which also varies from individual to individual anyway.

So more than using it to track, you know, my calories burned, I use it to see my consistency between my workouts. If I burnt 600 calories yesterday, I do the same thing today, my intensity can be, maybe, somewhat different, but my overall calorie burn will be somewhat, you know, plus minus 15%, which is wide— but that is the marginal error that these apps, that these devices really have. In terms of, is it a good device to have, I think if you can afford it and [fitness is] something that you are passionate about, I think it does serve a good purpose in keeping you consistent with your goals. That said, t’s definitely not, you know, 100 % necessary.

I think it can work for people who are either Fitness cognizant, or want to kind of be more proactive in their monitoring, and for people who are already fit and want to keep up that whole, you know, tracking and self-fulfilling lifestyle.

AB: Okay. Thank you, Karan. Neha, I wanted to ask you. Now, typically, when people come to you to be put on a food plan, say they want to lose weight, or they want to gain weight or whatever the situation is…you’d make them a food plan, and I’m assuming you and your team track it and monitor what they’re doing? You know, like, I go to a place called, I don’t know if you heard of a place in Austria called Mayr. The [Viva]Mayr Clinic. So I go there once a year. I come out and, you know, I’m so happy. But can a device replace that? Can a device— is there a device you can think of which can give us the same level of motivation and the same level of monitoring?

NS: In long run, to achieve your goal, motivation is very short-lived. What you need is discipline, consistency, and lot of patience. So what, what does this mean? When you look at someone’s picture, who’s fit, and you’re like, wow, motivated. Once you put the picture away, your motivation is kind of poor, right? So, you actually need also discipline in life. When I see clients… I think, to some extent, when you meet one-on-one, or when you’re there, some clients are more motivated with that, whereas some are quite okay doing it through a different pattern, you know. For some people like me, who are busy at work, I kind of really appreciate these apps. Sometimes they will teach you how to work out or what form to use – because I can go back home and not waste that time going to a gym, you know.

So, obviously, it depends totally upon your lifestyle. All humans are not made equal. So how each person interprets the app and uses it in their lives will depend from person to person. So as I said, it’s very important if you’re using these apps for your benefit— it should give the results because you have a certain goal, that’s why you downloaded these apps, or you’re using these apps. But if you don’t reach that goal, then it’s pointless for you.

AB: Okay. Thank you all for being here. Before you go, let’s remind the listeners of your advice. So, Neha, one app that you would recommend to your clients?

NS: As I said, I’m quite obsessed with blood sugar monitoring, so I’ve been using Ultra Human, and I think it’s quite an interesting app to use.

AB: Wonderful. Armaan, one app you’d recommend.

AK: I’d have to say Portl fitness. I think that’s the one I use. But yeah, apart from that, your Apple Watch is good to keep you monitoring your outdoor activities.

AB: Okay. And Karan, what about you?

KK: I would actually go with a food app, that’s MyFitnessPal, just because I think it’s fantastic to break into understanding how you eat.

AB: Lovely.

KK: And additionally. Sorry, I was— I just want to say that, not an app, but a page you can follow is Krank Fitness— Krank.Fitness, which is my fitness page.

AB: Wonderful! Neha, one area of fitness that people tend to ignore and should pay more attention to?

NS: I feel like we concentrate a lot on cardio. I think very few people actually try to lift some form of weights. And when I say weights, it could be any form of resistance training that helps you reduce body fat and has a lot of long-term health benefits. So I think people should start lifting weights.

AB: Armaan?

AK: I think adding to what Neha said… I think it’s very important to find balance—balance between the different forms of training that you do, balance between your training and nutrition and your sleep cycles. More importantly, just try and understand your body. Spend some time, do some research, consult an expert if you have to, but understand what you need and what works for you. And something that works for someone may not necessarily work for you. So spend some time on yourself.

AB: Wonderful! And Karan?

KK: I think, just being patient and, as Neha said, incorporating strength training. I think people want quick fixes too quick. I think take a second, really, you know, enjoy the journey more than the result. And the result will pay you forward 10 times.

AB: Thank you, Neha, Armaan and Karan, for being here, and for your time and for your valuable pieces of advice. And thank you to the audience for listening in. We hope you enjoyed this show. We hope you learned something new and if you have any questions to do with this episode, Armaan is receiving queries from listeners. You can send him an email at Neha’s Instagram handle is her name: Nehasahaya and Karan is at

I hope we’ve brought you a little closer to leading a healthier life and to leading your dream life. Thank you.