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How Machine Learning Will Help You Make Healthier Choices At Work

Source | FastCompany : By ROBIN MESTRE

It’s not easy to be healthy. And it’s even harder to be healthy at work, where chances are—despite the vogue for standing desks and the like—you’re parked in a chair for most of the day, focused on a screen. The average workweek, by one recent measure, is now 47 hours and counting. By and large, more time spent at the office means more time hunched over a computer, probably eating lunch at a desk. Stress—which has been linked to increased risk of stroke, heart disease, and other health issues—is just about inevitable as a result.

Knowing how to be healthy, though, isn’t the biggest problem—many of us are better informed than ever about how to make healthy choices. And while federal guidelines may shift a bit over time, the basics—like eating more whole grains and vegetables and fewer processed foods, or moving more and sitting less—remain basically the same. Putting that knowledge into practice is the real challenge.

This isn’t lost on employers, many of which havealready come to terms with the research pointing to correlations between productivity and healthy choices—from physical activity to good eating habits. More and more, you don’t have to work at Google (as I do) to gain access to an employer-provided gym or fitness stipends or even free healthy meals at work. But there are already signs that businesses are looking past those low-tech options to explore another way to boost their employees’ health and wellness: machine learning.


Broadly speaking, the biggest potential advantage to bringing in machine learning for on-the-job health is that it’s all about putting data we already have into action in real time. Fitness trackers do that to a certain extent already, and many of them are designed to use that data to help modify users’ behavior (though some are skeptical as to how successfully).

But not all tools based on machine learning are wearables, and many can still give you in-the-moment nudges in subtle, helpful ways (that don’t make you feel bad about yourself). A recent one that we’ve built here at Google is the Goals feature of Google Calendar, released last month and meant to help people find time for their goals—whether that’s going to the gym or wrapping up creative projects on schedule. After answering a few simple questions like “How often”? and “Best time?” Google Calendar finds the optimal window in your schedule and automatically reschedules if a conflict comes up.

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