Healthier, One Month At a Time

Jan 03 2013 Published by under General Health

FitBit GalleryEvery time I glance at the FitBit App Gallery I find a new aid in my ongoing quest for fitness. I just started using Health Month, a game-based platform for habit change.

It began with a group of friends challenging themselves to improve their health:

Health Month, at least this geneological line of it, started on April 3rd, 2002 whenRick Webb got dumped by his girlfriend and he decided he wanted to lose some weight. In January of 2003 his friend Keith Butters joined in and another friend helped create the official set of rules. Over the next couple years the monthly ritual gained popularity at the Barbarian Group and amongst some friends in New York and Seattle. The draw of the event was more about doing something drastic and dramatic, with friends, as a form of penance for the previous year. Improving long-term health habits wasn’t so much the goal… proving that you could go 30 days without a drink (and justifying a spirit of over-indulgence the rest of the year) sort of was.

In 2008 livejournal community was born. In 2009, a Facebook Group was born. Then the bickering started. Were the rigid all-or-nothing rules of Health Month too black and white? Was it not healthy to eat some meat? Wasn’t yogurt a good kind of dairy? Isn’t dark chocolate supposed to be good for you? Was fat even a bad thing? Without a consensus about what was healthy and what was not, the group that originally started mostly as a self-dare became fragmented with worries about what true health actually was. Even though over 600 people signed up for the Facebook Health Month group in 2009, 2010 was pretty much a dud, and everyone did their own things.

In the meantime, I built an iPhone app related to learning more about how to eat locally called Locavore and a social game called 750 Words that was a private journaling social game of sorts. My brain was a mess of nutritional information and social gaming ideas. After my son, Niko, was born in May of 2010, I gave myself 90 days to either build something new or get a real job.

Health Month was (re-)born.

In its latest incarnation, the players define their health rules from some set lists as shown in this video:

So how do you score points?

After you commit to your rules, you start each month with 10 shiny new life points. The goal is to end the month with at least 1 life point. You lose a life point whenever you don’t stick to one of your rules, but don’t worry if you lose all of your life points — that’s what friends are for! Friends and other players of Health Month have your back when you need to be healed (this is a big part of why Health Month totally rocks compared to other health plans and services). This game is NOT about making you feel guilty. It’s about helping you discover what works for your current lifestyle (do more of that) and what doesn’t (skip it). Also, if you accidentally over-commit yourself and and lose all of your life points (I’ve seen some people go to -100 life points and more! Maybe there should be an award for being ambitious?), it just means you can take it a little easier next month. Life is long. Small improvements will make a bigger impact long term. And, by the way, you can still play the game if you are -100 life points… everything still works as usual.

Of course, those of us with a competitive streak can find friends and strangers with whom to compete. You can share your progress on all the usual sites, and it integrates well with a number of other fitness apps.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The other figure shows my progress so far this month. The yellow lizard notes my degree of difficulty. I have only set 3 rules and I rated them all fairly easy.

Health Month looks like a great way to progressively challenge myself to make small healthy regular changes to my routines. I just upgraded to the premium account (first 6 months for $20.13 instead of $30); if it helps my changes stick, I will renew in July and update here.

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