South African Medical Aid, or how the Deity games us

in fitness •  5 months ago 

Here in South Africa, the land where government medical care can (and in many cases unfortunately does) get you killed, we worship a lesser-known Deity called Medical Aid. This Deity can keep us alive if we serve it well (read: pay it well). I refer to a particular Medical Aid, but not by name...that would take all the fun out of writing this post.

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Medical Aid demands a monthly sacrifice of a considerable amount of one's monthly earnings in return for coverage of an actuary's idea of what disease, health condition or accidental situation ideally (from Medical Aid's perspective) won't transpire, so they can keep our financial sacrifices and not have to pay for any preservative care. In other words, like other lesser gods, this one aims to get as much out of one's pocket as possible, while giving back as little as it can.

At least Medical Aid has a practical way to incentivise good behaviour

Medical Aid doesn't promote good behaviour through sermons or group study of religious texts, but rather through a worship practice known as "getting Vitality points", in service to the Greek-sounding Demi-God Vitality.

Medical Aid's idea, a good one from the perspective of life cycle asset management (if one considers one's body to be an "asset", which in my case is debatable), is to encourage preventive behaviour by incentivising health checks, exercising, eating well and not smoking. Vitality, as demi-gods go, is all about carrots, not sticks. Oh, and biiiiiig data.

Oh Carrot, my Carrot!

The Medical Aid has now figured out the Carrots which get us doing healthier stuff. Until recently, Vitality incentivised us with things I didn't want, like smoothies at Kauai, a local sort of fast food health outlet in malls. I never go to Kauai, don't drink smoothies and would do my level best to avoid eating or drinking anything in a mall. Hey, I'd do my level best not to even be at a mall. So that wasn't a great incentive. They also gave free coffees at Mugg & Bean, a South African coffee shop chain...a bit better, but not something which is going to get me up an hour earlier each morning to work out.

Now sometimes people will try to cheat the system

Sometimes people will try to cheat by, for instance, swiping their Demi-God tag at the gym without doing a workout. Bad worshipper! Not guilty, by the way. But how does Vitality know for sure what we're doing?

Introducing the Device

We have a go-between, an intercessor, between us humans, Vitality and the Medical Aid. This intercessor, known as a Device, monitors all sorts of parameters of interest to both Medical Aid (the Deity) and its Demi-God. My device is known as a Polar. Not a Bipolar, just a Polar. Other people have Devices with names like Fitbit, Garmin or (ugh) Apple Watch.

My Device reports to the Demi-God on my activities. It's a data snitch.

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This morning's activity, snitch ready

Polar collects all this info, then tells on me (okay, I gave it permission) to the Demi-God. Note how much time was spent in the green, yellow and pink zones, in this case something like 45 minutes out of a total of just over an hour and 10 minutes. This makes Vitality most happy, and for this it granted me, most graciously, 300 points today.

How does this points thing work? Deities surely don't work on a points system?

The Medical Aid Deity, and its Vitality Demi-God, absolutely do.

The points cycle is weekly, starting Saturday morning at 00:00 and going to Friday night 11:59. My current points target is 900 per week. There are many different ways to accumulate points to a target that the Demi-God Vitality sets each week (and trust me, that's a moving target), which can include steps (maximum 100 points per day), heart rate (different levels of workouts will trigger the Demi-God Vitality to award 100, 200 or even 300 points, the Holy Grail being to do a 60+ minute workout at 70% of one's maximum heart rate, which depends on age), or speed, which I don't have, so I won't talk about.

Vitality directs its praise (or silence) on our progress, as reported by our Devices, through a communication medium known as an App. This App is the incentive epicentre, where the Carrots turn into Carats, as it were.

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Hitting two targets in a week - steps and workout intensity

Here's what I mean by Carats. When we meet our weekly target, the App allows us to choose a tile on a gameboard. If we're lucky, we can hit on a Diamond, which apparently is worth a lot but I've never been lucky enough to land a Diamond. Unfortunately (more for me than you), I can't show you the gameboard today, as I have no "available plays", just 15 Vitality points, as I've just missed my target the last few weeks.

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Carrots and Carats

I did get a reward a few weeks back. A R100 Woolies voucher, and I suspect I might actually buy carrots with it.

NOW we're talking. Bucks off my grocery bill. You're going to see me reach my target every week.

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This week - success!

Yep, only Thursday but I've already reached my target of 900 points.

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And if you think I have more than an hour to spend just on exercise every day, you're nuts!

This is not me bragging about my super workouts or how I'm a fitness freak. Sure, I value staying fit, but I'm a 56 year old woman with a most imperfect asset, as it were. This is me telling you how to get basic housework done while at the same time (finally) getting rewarded for it, by sweating that asset.

Combining housework with exercise, leveraging a bit of OCD

Y'see that stovetop and counter? Go back to that heartrate graph at the beginning of the post for a sec - see where it spikes first? That's when I start scrubbing the stovetop. You'd be surprised how much effort it can take to get one of those babies clean, which is where the OCD kicks in. It's a mirror surface and reflects any streaks or spots, which aren't that easy to remove from it without considerable elbow grease.

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A little elbow grease keeps this spotless, and my Deity in the mood to reward me

Even if it was easy to clean, I think you see my point - why not put in more effort, jack up the heartrate and get a good workout while spotless-ifying the kitchen? My heartrate stays high because I now clean the whole counter in pretty much the same way - although that surface is actual dead easy to clean and leave streak free, but why waste a good wipe when the Device and the App are talking to the Deity and the Demi-God on my behalf? Oh, in case you're wondering, after I've finished cleaning the kitchen I do a "real" workout. The result of that effort shows up on the last half of the graph.

Talk about living an integrated life.

I am One with Big Data! I am worthy!


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I remember working for the old SAR & H and paying R8 per month in 1987... All dentistry etc!


WOW! Add a few more zeroes and that's where I am today :-(