Health and wellness

Wearable app uses your DNA to tell you what to eat and workouts to do in the gym – we put it to the test

Advanced Genomic Solutions app syncs with your smart band, reads your genetic profile and lets you program in your fitness goals, then recommends workouts and meals. Alas for our reviewer, it doesn’t come with a wine list

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 May, 2018, 7:33pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 May, 2018, 6:48pm

It’s all in the wrist, or in the case of wearable technology, on the wrist, which has become the nerve centre in the new frontier for health and medical technology. Financial analysts are predicting that the global market for health care wearables will bounce from US$6.2 billion in 2017 to US$15 billion over the next four years, with most of that revenue being spent on smartwatches.

The big players such as Apple, Samsung, LG and Garmin have various wearable models, but niche brands will also track everything from your sleep and heart rate to calories burned and calories earned – even whether you require a nine iron or a pitching wedge on the golf course.

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When you include specialised medical wearable bands, there are more than 100 different readings smartwatches can give you. Depending on your functional demands – comfort, style, or both – the prices range from US$50 for a basic fit band to US$120,000 for a Brikk Lux Watch Omni with an 18 carat gold case and a series of diamonds on the strap. Still, no matter how much your watch may shine, it will only show you data – and unless you know what to do with that data, it could be a waste of time and money.

According to Kevin MacDonald, founder and managing director of Advanced Genomic Solutions (AGS), a biotech genetic health testing company, properly integrating all that data is the key.

“People are now conditioned to have as much informatics as possible,” he says. “But all that information does is track what you do.”

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By creating the first smartphone app to integrate genetic testing results with wearable technology, the company is taking the technology a step further.

“Informatic tracking data from a smart band is a powerful tool to promote more movement, which can translate into better employee health,” MacDonald says.

The AGS app is designed to recommend what you should eat and the best activities based on your unique genetic profile.

“It is not overpopulated with information you don’t need, or giving you a range of meal plans that don’t work for you,” said MacDonald. “If you should be having 65 per cent [of calories from ] daily carbs, it will only show you meals that are 65 per cent daily carbs. The user can then request only to see their food preferences.”

It offers dining options ranging from vegetarian to Chinese to Tex-Mex. In addition to nutrition, the app can also be customised with workouts featuring corresponding instructional videos to suit your DNA profile.

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The company, based in the American state of Arizona and with a testing lab in Hong Kong, is expanding to Singapore, and most of that growth is on the back of its rapidly expanding corporate genetic programmes.

“In highly competitive job markets like Hong Kong and Singapore, many employers offer gym memberships to try to incentivise existing employees and entice talented staff prospects who have a few different offers,” said MacDonald. This corporate wellness/fitness trend is particularly pronounced in Asia.

Simon Flint, CEO of Evolution Wellness which owns and operates the Fitness First and Celebrity Fitness chains, says about 30 per cent of membership traffic is from corporate sources.

“For some clubs it can be as high as 70 per cent corporate members, depending on the location, like in central business districts. Integrating genetic tests is an emerging trend in corporate wellness,” he says.

Some companies are even including smartphone wearables as part of employee packages to go along with DNA testing – for good reason. A 2015 study by Aetna, the American health care company, found that employees enrolled in a wellness programme were associated with reductions in total health care costs of US$122 per head per month.

US$600 DNA test that tells you how to exercise and what to eat offered to Hong Kong gym-goers – we give it a try

“Two of our largest corporate genetic accounts bought thousands of smart bands for their employees a few years ago,” says MacDonald, from Singapore. “By giving their employees a wellness programme offering that invigorates and interests them, it helps maintain a more productive employee and shows the employee that their employer cares about them.”

It obviously helps with the corporate bottom line as well, as healthy employees take fewer sick days and have lower health care costs.

It is not overpopulated with information you don’t need, or giving you a range of meal plans that don’t work for you
Kevin MacDonald, AGS

Having already done a DNA test myself a little over a year ago, I was anxious to use the app and see if it is life changing.

My DNA test had found I need to avoid simple carbohydrates to minimise the risk of cardiovascular disease but also that I was a fast metaboliser, so my body could tolerate more alcohol when compared to others. The caveat, according to the results, was that I have a higher risk of overdrinking because my body does not show signs of toxicity intolerance.

Bearing all that in mind, I naturally assumed that the app would recommend a nice glass of Bordeaux or a Barolo to go with my recommended daily intake of 65 per cent carbohydrates. But no, health and wellness apps don’t come with a wine list.

I synched the app with a Fitbit, though it also works with Garmin and Helo smartbands. I challenged it by setting a request for vegetarian Chinese food only.

I set a goal of losing five per cent body fat in two months, and the AGS app used the data tracking on the Fitbit to calculate my daily calories burned versus calories consumed to achieve that goal. It also recommended a number of vegetarian Chinese dietary options.

Based on my genetic make-up, the app advised an exercise routine that was half cardio and half strength/resistance training. It provided a series of exercises for strength/resistance training along the lines of compound exercises such as bench presses, cable pulldowns and rows.

It also made it clear that, no matter how much time you may spend in the gym, you simply cannot outwork a bad diet.

How a smartwatch literally saved this man’s life and why he wants more people to wear one

What also became abundantly clear after one week is that you must be proactive when it comes to programming data into the app; you only get out of it what you put into it. For now.

Soon these watches will integrate all your digital data straight into the app. In fact, a Hong Kong resident recently claimed that an alert from a smartwatch prompted him to go to the hospital to find out why his heart rate had spiked, even though he was feeling fine. Two of his coronary arteries were completely blocked, and a third was 90 per cent blocked. His smartwatch saved his life, he says.

All of this is leading us one step closer to automated provisioning – deploying information technology on your wrist to electronically carry out health-related procedures without any human intervention. Yet, despite the myriad of technological advances, they still can’t do the workouts for you, or feed you sensibly. That has to come from within. For now.