Technology's Hand in Health
Everyone wants to be healthy, but sometimes the actions required are easier said than done. Even simple things like eating well can be a chore without the right guidance and motivation. As it has in so many other areas of life, technology has evolved to produce tools to help us achieve better health.
Health care technology is as varied as each individual's health concerns. It ranges from apps to devices to entire systems that incorporate programs, equipment, and analysis. Like other health-related products, this technology works best when it's the right fit. To guide you, we've researched some of the best options and categorized them on the following pages.
Food, exercise, and sleep are important for everyone's health. You'll find descriptions of apps and gadgets that can help you improve all three. They include updates of old favorites, like the Sleep Number mattress, and new additions including a fun app that presents a zombie apocalypse scenario to get you running! In addition, you'll find a variety of the best exercise apps, gadgets to keep you healthy when you travel, and tips for getting the most out of a telemedicine appointment. We also explore technology's role in managing serious health conditions.
You've heard "an apple a day keeps the doctor away." These days, it may be more accurate to say "an app a day keeps the doctor away."
QUICK TIP: Apps are easy to install and uninstall, so don't be afraid to try one and move on to another if it's not right for you.
Get a Taste of High-Tech Food and Nutrition Aids
Eating right can be hard when you're busy, and even harder if health issues require you or family members to stick to a restricted diet. But there are new ways to make it easier to make better food decisions each day.
Nutrition on the Go
Several new apps and gadgets allow you to evaluate food, no matter where you are, based on a snapped photo, a touch sensor, or even a sniffing device! Get a chemical breakdown or nutritional and calorie information.
You can make use of all kinds of technology right in your own kitchen. The Mellow system (cookmellow.com) uses an app to activate a device that cooks your meals "sous vide" (within a sealable plastic bag in water to maximize nutrition) based on your own timeline. A smart toaster oven allows you to cook your meals faster, using a controller on your iPhone or iPad. You can also get devices and apps that plan your meals for you based on preferences you provide.
If you simply can't resist that cookie after dinner, make sure you're eating just one. You can lock the rest of them up in a time-locked container that only opens when the timer reaches zero.
Drink in Health
Don't forget about beverages, including the most important one: water. Try a smart water filter with sensors that show you the quality of your water.
Social Media Can Improve Your Health
Whether you're dealing with a recent diagnosis or you're trying to better manage a chronic health condition, you don't have to go it alone. There are several ways to get health support through social media sites:
- Follow the social media pages of reputable health care organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Mayo Clinic, or organizations related to your specific health concerns. This will keep you updated on the latest health news.
- There are groups on Facebook which function as support groups for people with certain health issues. They can be great for getting needed encouragement and sharing your own experiences. Just be cautious — not all groups are carefully monitored and can actually be counterproductive. Start by "lurking" to see if the group is a good fit for you.
- You can use the groups mentioned above, or just your own circle of connections, to share health goals and accomplishments. This can be a powerful motivator, since getting pats on the back from others can provide the added push you need to move forward on your health journey.
Combined with your local health care team, social media can help you feel better and do better.
FAST FACT: NPR reports that 75 percent of Americans say they eat healthy, despite evidence to the contrary.
Don't Just Sit! Use Tech to Get Fit!
Technology can help you be more active, get the most out of your workouts, and find new activities to love.
You're probably already familiar with gadgets like Fitbit (fitbit.com) and pedometers that track your steps throughout the day and encourage you to take more of them. But these devices are just the beginning of how small "helpers" can enable you to achieve big results.
You can buy shoes and clothing that track your heart rate and other data, and send the information to an app on your phone, which performs analysis to help you train smarter. Heart-rate monitors have become Bluetooth-enabled devices that work with an app to give you points, badges, and other rewards for feeling the burn.
Enhance Your Asanas
Looking to get your heart rate down rather than up? You can buy a yoga mat that helps you improve your technique with technology that stimulates the skin on your hands and feet, enabling you to achieve those challenging balance poses.
Technology can also help you enjoy exercise more. Consider wireless headphones, apps that choose music for your workouts, and apps and programs that broadcast live fitness classes so you can join in even if you're halfway across the country. At least one app (Zombies, Run! at zombiesrungame.com) really takes the fun factor to a new level by turning your daily run into a game in which you're actually trying to escape from a zombie apocalypse!
QUICK TIP: A tech gadget that might work great for your best friend may do nothing for you. Be sure to check return policies before buying health-related equipment.
Up Your Exercise by Downloading These Apps
Try one or more of these apps to find an exercise regimen you love, then get started and keep moving. • Aaptiv – Unlimited access to audio-based fitness classes led by professional trainers • 7 Minute Workout by Simple Design – Instructions for a quick workout anywhere
- Daily Burn – Live daily workouts designed for fitness beginners
- Daily Yoga – Guided yoga videos for beginning to advanced practitioners
- Couch to 5K – Offers an effective program for helping new runners train for a race
- Freeletics Bodyweight – Instructions for 5- to 30-minute workouts based only on bodyweight (no equipment needed)
- 5 Minute Pilates – Simple but effective Pilates exercises, perfect for beginners
- Sworkit – Sets up a six-week exercise program based on your fitness goals
- JEFIT Workout Tracker – Allows you to set up, track, and get insights on a personalized fitness program (perfect for gym rats)
- Calm – Meditation programs for the all-important post-exercise recovery phase
Tune, Tap, and Track Your Way to a Great Night's Sleep
One of the tips you'll hear again and again about maintaining good health is to get plenty of quality sleep. If that's a challenge for you, sleep technology may be a dream come true.
The Sleep Number (sleepnumber.com) mattress has been helping sleepers and their partners snooze comfortably (which often means differently) for years. The latest version offers biometric sleep tracking, real-time adjustment, automatic snore detection (and correction), and a cozy foot warmer. Kryo uses a combination of a mattress pad and an app to continuously adjust your sleeping temperature for maximum comfort. Not enough comfort for you? Try a high-tech pillow that allows you to listen to music, analyze your sleep patterns, and coordinate with your Amazon smart speaker.
2Breathe (2breathe.com) combines a sensor and app to regulate your breathing, which can help you get to sleep. For some, another way to relax is to get your sleeping partner to stop snoring! Nora (smartnora.com) is a smart snoring solution that gently moves the snorer's head to facilitate normal breathing. If a jarring alarm is another relaxation killer for you, try out a device that chooses the best time to wake you up based on your sleep patterns.
Apps like Proactive Sleep enable you to set an alarm to play soothing music at bedtime and keep a "sleep diary" to help you see patterns in your sleeping habits. High-tech nightshirts embedded with a chip can process breathing pattern data to determine sleep cycles. Of course, Fitbit, which you might already use to track your steps, can also track sleep quality habits.
How to Get the Most from Telehealth Appointments
While videoconferencing for medical appointments (known as telehealth) is becoming increasingly common, it isn't appropriate for every type of concern. It can be effective, however, for simple issues. Use the following strategies when you have a telehealth appointment:
Vet the healthcare practitioner as you would if you were visiting in person. If it's a physician you already work with and like, great! If not, be sure to ask questions about the provider's experience, especially for your specific health care concerns.
Write down questions in advance. Doctor visits aren't always comfortable, and the new experience of a video call might add to your forgetfulness. To ensure you meet your goals, jot down some notes and questions beforehand.
Eliminate distractions. Set up the call for a time and a place where you can have quiet and privacy. Consider doing it from home during business hours when no other family members are present.
You'll also want to make sure your internet connection is fast enough for a smooth videoconferencing experience. If you think you may need a speed upgrade, contact your internet service provider.
Innovative Tech Solutions Address Serious Health Concerns
For some, technology that supports health isn't just a convenience; it's a matter of life or death. Thankfully there are many devices and apps to help address chronic health concerns.
Various devices can help people stay connected with their entire health team, including multiple physicians or a home health agency. For example, a blood pressure monitor can send data to providers to help them monitor and treat a patient's hypertension. Similarly, smart contact lenses have a sensor to monitor glucose in patients' tears. Ingestible sensors can monitor mental health patients' prescription intake to ensure they stay on their medication.
One hospital program gave diabetic participants a pedometer and scale to measure and log their activity and weight. The patients also used an app to track food intake and other information. Results were displayed on a dashboard for both patients and doctors to see and discuss. Some apps give patients tips for managing their condition between provider visits. An app called Streaks encourages you to build new habits, which is often critical for managing chronic conditions.
The Mind-Body Connection
Another app called Stop, Breathe & Think helps users learn how to meditate and "check in" to rate their health throughout the day. The Choice Compass app uses objective data — your heartbeat — to help you make the best decisions about your health and be aware of day-to-day matters that have the potential to increase your stress.
In addition to providing valuable data and information, many of these tools increase patient engagement. This can lead to a sense of empowerment as you take greater control over your own health.
Best Gadgets to Help You Stay Healthy While Traveling
Whether you're just trying to stay fit or have a chronic disease, portable tech gadgets can help you maintain health while you travel. Here are some of the best:
Air pollution monitor – Measures air temperature and humidity, and alerts you to the presence of harmful gases and volatile organic compounds.
EKG monitor – Includes a pad that you touch with your fingers to track your heart health.
Germ-eliminating travel wand – Use it on your airplane seat, hotel bed, or any other surface to kill harmful bacteria.
Hot/cold pain relief wand – Instead of ice packs or heating pads, use this adjustable device to treat muscle aches and pains.
Portable gluten tester – Perfect for those with a gluten allergy or sensitivity.
Stylish fitness tracker – Allows you to continue monitoring your steps and more while at a work meeting or out on the town.
Wireless blood pressure monitor – Synchronizes with your smart device and gives you instant measurements and feedback.
The Other Side of the Coin: How Technology Can Diminish Health
While technology has much to offer in terms of keeping you healthier, it also has the potential for causing health issues. Here are a few of the pitfalls:
With movies, shopping, news, entertainment, work, and friendship right at your fingertips, you no longer have to physically exert yourself to perform daily tasks. If you don't consciously make an effort to exercise or physically perform some of these actions, you risk becoming overweight.
Looking at a computer screen for long periods of time can negatively impact your eyesight. This problem can be minimized by using a timer to remind you to look at a distant object every 20 minutes, adjusting lighting, and staying a comfortable distance away from the screen.
Regular computer use can also cause muscle strain, particularly in your head, neck, and shoulders. Many sources recommend using an ergonomic work- station or alternating between sitting and standing to avoid being in one position for too long.
Experts agree that viewing bright screens within two hours of bedtime can interfere with restful sleep. If this is an issue for you, consider instituting a screen cutoff time well before bed, or trying a phone setting that dims screens during evening hours.
Mental Health Issues
From loss of social skills to lack of focus to depression, and even internet addiction (see sidebar), technology can have a negative impact on how we see ourselves and the world. If you notice problematic symptoms, you may need to adjust your technology usage or seek help from a counselor.
Internet Addiction and Its Destructive Influence
Anything taken to an extreme can become an addiction, and using the internet is no exception. Internet addiction disorder (IAD) is the term used to describe excessive internet usage that becomes compulsive and interferes with other areas of life. Those suffering from IAD may experience withdrawal symptoms when not able to access the internet. Symptoms are similar to other addictions, including:
- A preoccupation with the internet
- The need for more time spent online to achieve the same level of satisfaction
- Using the internet for mood regulation
- Irritability or depression when internet use is limited
- Lying about time spent online and staying online longer than intended
Physical symptoms can include insomnia, neck pain, backache, and vision problems.
Some who recognize they have a problem may be able to "self-correct" and overcome the addiction. Others may need help from medication, behavior modification, individual or group therapy, or other methodologies.
FAST FACT: The most popular health and fitness apps in the U.S. are Fitbit, 5 Health (for Samsung), and MyFitnessPal.