THE WEEKLY HOWL IS RUNNING ON A TREADMILL

Running: It wasn’t that along that the fitness industry was demonizing running. Now there are a gaggle of startups determined to monetize the act of putting one foot in front of the other. From Bloomberg Businessweek:

Peloton is the only major company that’s aggressively advancing both new hardware and new software, but it has competitors in each arena. With hardware, there’s IPO Sports, with its foldable treadmill, for example, and Life Fitness, which says its cardiovascular machines are used by about 1 billion exercisers a year. Commercial accounts—largely gyms—make up 95 percent of its business; its home treadmills start at around $2,600.

While Life Fitness’s FlexDeck shock absorption system feels wooden compared with the Tread’s bed, the company is now letting outside developers create software for its machines. “You’ll be able to access video content,” says Jaime Irick, fitness division president of Brunswick Corp., which owns Life Fitness. “You’ll be able to do some shopping on the console. It’s not just the audio and the app, it’s a world of opportunity.” Last year, Irick helped start a digital ventures group within Brunswick to act as an “incubator for all the ideas we have: to test them, experiment with them in the marketplace, figure out which ones we can develop and scale up quickly.”

Life Fitness’s latest treadmill is equipped with its Discover SE3 HD console and features a coaching program from New York-based Studio, one of Peloton’s challengers on the software side. Started in January 2017 by Jason Baptiste, who previously founded a mobile publishing platform, and Nathaniel McNamara, a venture capital investor, Studio is modestly sized at this point. It has seven employees at its Wall Street office and $1.3 million in funding.

Take any piece of fitness advice you read or hear with a grain of salt. Look at who’s giving it and figure out what they have to gain from giving it, if anything. Running took a lot of heat the last few years for two reasons. The first reason is because the industry was over-correcting. For a long time, fitness was defined by endurance sports. It was all about running marathons and triathlons, going long. A correction was in order but we got an over-correction instead.  The second reason is because the people dispensing the “wisdom” didn’t know how to make money from running or didn’t understand it so they bashed it. They told people that it was somehow bad for you, that it would you make you skinny-fat. Always look at fitness advice with a critical eye. Of course, the 6’4/250 lbs power-lifting guru isn’t going to put much stock into running but you don’t have to listen to him.

Now there is a gold rush from fitness entrepreneurs who want to re-invent the act of running. Once again, let us not lose sight of their motivation: they want to make it rich off of running. One of the great things about running is that it is the most egalitarian of the fitness disciplines. You don’t need a bunch of equipment, you may not even need shoes if you have access to unpaved ground. These people want to make their fortune off running (some of them admit that they don’t even like running) and they plan to do so by making it seem more complicated than it is. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t purchase any of these products. Some of them might be helpful. Just remember that you don’t need any of them to go running, they’re all luxuries that will provide a marginal benefit at most. None of these products or services is going to reinvent running. Because the best running is done outdoors, covering ground and listening to your body.

              Also, $4000 is way too much money for a treadmill.

More Peloton: Let’s say you were a company that pioneered the concept of bringing high-end cycling classes into the convenience of people’s homes. You have a multi-billion dollar valuation and there is talk of a lucrative IPO. The world is your oyster but now one of the companies that offers those high-end cycling classes wants to get into the home market themselves. You start to worry. What if they can do what we do but better? What about the IPO? You have to do something! So you file a lawsuit. But what do you allege? From Fast Company:

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Marshall, Texas, Peloton claims its competitor copied its best-selling stationery bike using the company’s proprietary patents. In the formal complaint, the New York City-based company says Flywheel, a brick-and-mortar boutique cycling studio, decided to shift gears after increasingly losing customers to Peloton.

From the complaint:

[R]ather than innovating and investing, as Peloton had, Flywheel infringed the Peloton Patents by creating a copycat of the Peloton Bike experience called the ‘FLY Anywhere’ that, among other things, detects, synchronizes, and compares the ride metrics of remote users on a graphical user interface. With its FLY Anywhere bike, Flywheel infringes the Peloton Patents by, among other things, displaying live and archived cycling class content to remote riders, tracking a remote rider’s performance, and comparing that remote rider’s performance against the performance of other remote riders.

In addition, Peloton shares a rather head-scratching incident in which, three months before Flywheel announced its FLY Anywhere bike, one of its largest investors, Michael Milken, attended a private investment conference to meet with chief executives of several companies, which included Peloton. The complaint claims that Milken falsely presented himself to Peloton cofounder and CEO John Foley as a potential investor, going so far as to request and obtain information from Foley about the company’s technology and business strategy.

Peloton says Milken did not disclose his involvement and multimillion-dollar investment in Flywheel. “On information and belief, Milken provided this information to Flywheel, which then used this information to facilitate the development, sales, and marketing of the infringing FLY Anywhere bike,” concludes Peloton.

              Flywheel is older than Peloton and has been using scoreboards the entire time. The company is based on the idea of participants competing against one another.

In fact, says Flywheel, it introduced indoor cycling with signature features, such as scoreboards and individual personalized performance trackers eight years ago. Peloton, meanwhile, only introduced its technology four years ago, “employing many of the features first pioneered by Flywheel.”

              Michael Milken is still around? So Michael Milken, one of the most infamous criminals in Wall Street history, comes sniffing around and asking questions about your company and you just hand over all your secrets? That doesn’t sound very smart. Also, Peloton is alleging that Flywheel is infringing on their patents but also engaged in corporate espionage. It seems like they’re just throwing crap against the wall and hoping that something sticks. Prediction: this lawsuit goes nowhere.

What’s the plan: Obesity is a problem that our society has no handle on and the people suffering from it end up taking the brunt of it. From the Huffington Post:

Ask almost any fat person about her interactions with the health care system and you will hear a story, sometimes three, the same as Enneking’s: rolled eyes, skeptical questions, treatments denied or delayed or revoked. Doctors are supposed to be trusted authorities, a patient’s primary gateway to healing. But for fat people, they are a source of unique and persistent trauma. No matter what you go in for or how much you’re hurting, the first thing you will be told is that it would all get better if you could just put down the Cheetos.

This phenomenon is not merely anecdotal. Doctors have shorter appointments with fat patients and show less emotional rapport in the minutes they do have. Negative words—“noncompliant,” “overindulgent,” “weak willed”—pop up in their medical histories with higher frequency. In one study, researchers presented doctors with case histories of patients suffering from migraines. With everything else being equal, the doctors reported that the patients who were also classified as fat had a worse attitude and were less likely to follow their advice. And that’s when they see fat patients at all: In 2011, the Sun-Sentinel polled OB-GYNs in South Florida and discovered that 14 percent had barred all new patients weighing more than 200 pounds.

              The obesity epidemic is a gaping wound and we’re trying to stick a bunch of band-aids over it. Doctors don’t have the time or training to effectively deal with this problem.

Many of the financial and administrative structures doctors work within help reinforce this bad behavior. The problem starts in medical school, where, according to a 2015 survey, students receive an average of just 19 hours of nutrition education over four years of instruction—five hours fewer than they got in 2006. Then the trouble compounds once doctors get into daily practice. Primary care physicians only get 15 minutes for each appointment, barely enough time to ask patients what they ate today, much less during all the years leading up to it. And a more empathic approach to treatment simply doesn’t pay: While procedures like blood tests and CT scans command reimbursement rates from hundreds to thousands of dollars, doctors receive as little as $24 to provide a session of diet and nutrition counseling.

              If we’re expecting doctors to fix this as a side-gig, then we’re going to be severely disappointed.  There are a ton of structural problems in our society to lead to obesity but we have no system for dealing with it. People don’t know how to eat or to exercise and we don’t teach them. Maybe it should be in our public schools or maybe it should be part of our healthcare system but we can’t expect doctors to fill that gap in addition to everything else they do. Fitness and nutrition are a black box to most people, we need to demystify it.

              We also need to change expectations. There is no magic cure. Modern life in America is sedentary and contains an abundance of the unhealthiest food. This is the opposite of the entirety of human existence minus the last 50 years. We’re not wired for this so we have to re-wire ourselves. Work is now sedentary so our leisure time has to be active. Food is plentiful and famine is not right around the corner so we have to resist over-eating. But that’s not all either. Our food supply sucks too.

For more than a decade now, researchers have found that the quality of our food affects disease risk independently of its effect on weight. Fructose, for example, appears to damage insulin sensitivity and liver function more than other sweeteners with the same number of calories. People who eat nuts four times a week have 12 percent lower diabetes incidence and a 13 percent lower mortality rate regardless of their weight. All of our biological systems for regulating energy, hunger and satiety get thrown off by eating foods that are high in sugar, low in fiber and injected with additives. And which now, shockingly, make up 60 percent of the calories we eat.

Draining this poison from our trillion-dollar food system is not going to happen quickly or easily. Every link in the chain, from factory farms to school lunches, is dominated by a Mars or a Monsanto or a McDonald’s, each working tirelessly to lower its costs and raise its profits. But that’s still no reason to despair. There’s a lot we can do right now to improve fat people’s lives—to shift our focus for the first time from weight to health and from shame to support.

              There are no easy answers. We need a lot of answers and some of them are going to be very tough because the problem is still getting worse.

Insurance: Fitness trackers have been on enormous interest to insurance companies because for the first time they could actually see what their customers were doing on a daily basis. Now John Hancock is going all in on fitness tracking. From Venturebeat:

John Hancock, one of the oldest and largest North American life insurers, will stop underwriting traditional life insurance and instead sell only interactive policies that track fitness and health data through wearable devices and smartphones, the company said on Wednesday.

The move by the 156-year-old insurer, owned by Canada’s Manulife Financial, marks a major shift for the company, which unveiled its first interactive life insurance policy in 2015. It is now applying the model across all of its life coverage.

              Also:

It is too early for John Hancock to determine if it is paying fewer claims because of its Vitality program, said Brooks Tingle, head of John Hancock’s insurance unit. But data it has collected so far about customers’ activities suggest that it will, Tingle said, as Vitality policyholders worldwide live 13 to 21 years longer than the rest of the insured population.

John Hancock’s U.S. life insurance customers can choose from a basic Vitality program in which customers log their activity in an app or website and can receive gift cards for major retailers after reaching their milestones, or an expanded program that offers wearable devices and discounts of up to 15 percent on premiums, among other benefits, the company said.

              I should be the type of person who applauds this type of thing but I really hope that this doesn’t become the norm. I don’t want to have to be attached to a fitness tracker for the rest of my life so that I can get life insurance. What a pain in the ass. And I have no faith that these companies would be able to keep my personal data secure. I have little faith that they would even try very hard to do so.

Kids: Do you know any children? Or were you ever a child yourself? Does it sound like a good idea to try to make a child sit in a chair all day? No, of course not. Yet that it what we expect children in school to do and then when they struggle with that, we say that they have behavioral problems. Maybe we should try something different. From Psych Central:

As childhood obesity continues to rise and physical education classes are replaced by academics, elementary schools are searching for ways to incorporate the federally mandated half-hour of physical activity into the school day.

In-class exercise tends to put off many teachers who believe that the burst of activity in the classroom will disrupt learning. But new research suggests that mini exercise breaks during the school day may actually work quite well.

In a series of five studies, researchers at the University of Michigan (U-M) confirmed that 2-minute bursts of in-class exercise not only increased the amount of daily exercise for students, but did so without hurting math performance. In fact, when the exercise breaks were incorporated into classrooms throughout southeast Michigan, teachers found the breaks quite doable, and in some cases, could even enhance learning.

Sitting all day long is not natural. It’s insane to expect children to sit in a chair all day without any physical activity. I hope that this idea can catch on nationally.

Tidbits:

-The Army’s new fitness test is no joke

-There’s a Joe Weider movie coming out

-CrossFit at sea

-Strava wants to move indoors