Are you trying to eat more vegetables…walk 20 minutes per day…sleep at least seven hours every night? We all have health and wellness goals, but sometimes even the best intentioned need a nudge in the right direction.
Enter Rally, a wellness program that helps participants identify their greatest health challenges and improve upon them. Through personalized “Missions” and friendly competitions called “Challenges,” people hook up their fitness trackers and log their activity compared to others in Rally. Participants earn points that can be exchanged for prizes.
“I’m currently on a mission where I try to stop eating when I’m full,” said David Ko, president and chief operating officer of Rally Health. “I have another one that reminds me to be grateful each day. Too often we focus on the negativity of what’s around us and we don’t take a step back and focus on what is going well. And then I also have one that helps me focus on getting more sleep.”
The program favors incremental change over dramatic makeovers that may be hard to sustain. Rather than pushing a person who doesn’t get much exercise to train for a marathon, for example, a Mission might challenge him or her to stretch every day or get 30 minutes of exercise—any kind of exercise—every day. All the Missions are based on solid science, rather than passing fads.
“Health care is a journey,” Ko said. “It’s not something that you pick up and do for a few days, and then stop doing. It’s something that follows you your entire life, and whether you choose to engage with it or not is your choice. We want to put the state of your health in your hands.”
Insurance plans, including UnitedHealthcare, partner with Rally and give employers the option of offering Rally to their employees. More than 9,000 employers offer the service, including 45 percent of Fortune 500 companies, giving more than 30 million people access to the program. Here’s an example of how it worked for a 33-year-old writer living in New York City.
Striving for Sugar-Free
Andrea* signed up for Rally in March 2017 with a goal in mind: to get rid of the excess sugar in her diet. This wasn’t a new goal. The previous September, she tried to give up alcohol, caffeine and sugar. As a very sporadic drinker, she found alcohol fell by the wayside easily. Giving up the caffeine from her daily cup of tea meant getting through two weeks of brain fog and mild headaches.
Sugar was another thing entirely. Though she maintained a healthy weight, Andrea’s diet included at least one item high in added sugar every day—flavored instant oatmeal for breakfast, a protein bar for a mid-morning snack, gummy candy in the afternoon, ice cream before bed, or some combination of the four. Knowing just how detrimental too much sugar can be to a person’s health, Andrea knew for some time that she needed to cut down. But in 2017, the need became more pressing.
“When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I knew my habits needed to change,” she said. “For the first few months, I had such bad morning sickness that my doctor told me to eat whatever I could. But after that started to subside, I decided to think seriously about how my sweet tooth was affecting my baby.”
Getting Down to Business
When someone signs up for Rally, their first step is to choose a visual symbol that will represent them in the Rally community. Next, they take a detailed four-part survey about their overall health and habits. More than 95 percent of Rally users who start the survey complete it, according to the company.
“The quiz surprised me,” Andrea said. “I was eating Indian food takeout at my desk at work when it asked me how often I cook at home. Immediately, I thought, ‘Yikes.’ Then, it asked me how frequently I feel overwhelmed with stress, and I found myself answering ‘Often.’ I started to realize there might be more going on with my health than I thought.”
Indeed, the survey showed that Andrea’s Rally age—based on her overall health and lifestyle—was 37, four years older than her actual age. The program also showed her stress was her number-one problem. It suggested that she sign up for Missions to help her relax, exercise more, eat better, and get more sleep.
After browsing through some stress-relief Missions—keep a journal every day, keep a mood diary—Andrea decided to focus on her original goals of eating less sugar and fewer processed foods. For the next six days, she did her best—and mostly failed, making it only one day without sugar and two days free of processed foods.
An Unexpected Success
Still, the experiment felt like a victory.
“Seeing my Rally age made it clear that even though I’m maintaining a healthy weight and have no chronic diseases, my high-stress lifestyle isn’t doing me any favors,” Andrea said. “Sure, I sometimes get cranky and anxious, but I had never connected those feelings to my health. Now, I do.”
Becoming more aware of her eating habits also helped Andrea realize that long hours at work were a trigger for unhealthy snacking. The healthy lunches and fruit she packed weren’t filling her up, and she often turned to the vending machine as a fast, easy solution. Since she started the program, Andrea says she’s started packing more substantial lunches with nuts and dried fruit for snacks, and finds herself buying fewer brownies and candy as a result.
“Is my nutrition perfect? No. Am I getting better? Yes. Do I intend to keep going? Yes,” she said. “I’m more aware of my health challenges now, and I know there are small things I can do every day to help overcome them. That, to me, is progress.”
Editor’s Note: Name has been changed