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Top Five Health and Fitness Trends Expected at SXSW 2014

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Over the past several years, SXSW has set the stage for some of the most successful product launches in the tech community. For instance, Twitter was practically unknown before launching at the conference in 2007. For its part, Foursquare witnessed instant success in 2009.

It's clear is that SXSW will host some of 2014's hottest new products. While I'm no soothsayer, one area likely to be bigger and better than ever before is digital health and fitness. With the conference only a week away, I sat down with Florian Gschwandtner, CEO and co-founder of Runtastic. Gschwandtner and I discuss the top five health and fitness trends to expect to see at SXSW this year.

PS: Will apps and "wearables" will become more social?
FG: From spin class to cross-fit, Pilates to Plyometrics, people take group classes because interacting with others keeps them more motivated, engaged and accountable. For apps and hardware to compete in this space, the focus must shift from the gadgets to the experience so that even when users are working out by themselves, they feel they are engaged and connected with others. It's this social aspect of fitness that pushes people to reach new goals - if you know friends are tracking your run, you're going to run a little faster and go a little farther. As apps and devices become more complex, there will be increased social features that allow users to interact, even if they're on opposite sides of the world.

PS: Talk to me about increasing the focus on understanding data versus just collecting it.
FG: With thousands of different apps and fitness trackers collecting multitudes of data, it's difficult to know how to aggregate data in a way that makes sense. Up until now, the main novelty has been the ability to simply collect the data. Between apps, wearables and trackers, users can monitor every aspect of their digital health and fitness lives. But in the end, what good is the data if you can't put it in context and interpret it in a meaningful way?

While some companies are forming partnerships to allow users to sync data across platforms, others, such as Runtastic, are creating a holistic approach that allows users to track and monitor activities on a single platform. With data from all apps and hardware in one place, users can analyze activities, set goals and monitor improvement in an unprecedented way.

PS: Will health and fitness data become more integrated with healthcare?
FG: While the digital health and fitness sector has grown at an impressive speed, the healthcare system still operates at a mainly analogue level. Doctors therefore want access to personal tracking data so they can better understand patients' overall lifestyles and provide better treatment. Conversely, many sleep and nutrition tracking companies are already trying to sell their data to major clinics and labs, while universities and insurance companies are requesting data from app and hardware companies. New brands are even emerging with the sole purpose of playing middleman between the healthcare industry and the digital health and fitness sector.

PS: Will the quantified-self movement eventually include both external and internal data?
FG: Right now, the majority of apps and devices that track the quantified-self are focused on external data - how far you run, how many steps you take, the number of calories you burn. While we have begun to see the emergence of internal trackers, we are only at the tip of the iceberg in terms of the data that can be monitored and aggregated. We will see even more apps and trackers surfacing that monitor sleep, blood pressure, heart rate, saliva, urine analysis, and more. This internal data will provide an even more comprehensive look at both overall lifestyles and the specific areas that require the most attention to both prevent illness and allow users to lead a healthier life.

PS: Talk to me about the technological vs. the natural. What is the best way to "optimize" our lives?
FG: We live in a world where technology and innovation are part of our everyday lives. We expect a new Apple product every year and are mad when it's the 5s instead of the 6.0. And while we use that technology for just about everything - from calling cabs, to scheduling dates, to tracking the size of our baby (yes, really) - at what point is technology actually helping us?

Is food in its natural form better than food that has been "improved" using technology? Is it better to wake up naturally or have an app wake you up at the optimal point of your sleep cycle? Ultimately, where should the balance lie between our online and offline lives? Just because we use technology to track and monitor our individual data doesn't mean we are automatically fit and healthy. We still have to do things the old fashioned way - work out and eat right - to attain results.

Gschwandtner will be presenting at SXSW on Saturday, March 8th at 3:30 pm in the Austin Convention Center Ballroom F.