It often feels as if there are two mindsets regarding healthy living: those looking to return to the natural goodness of the earth and those embracing modern, manmade products. However, there are plenty of products and foods that disprove the need for such a division, including vegan and vegetarian foods that imitate animal-based products, organic and convenient frozen meals, and even the ever-improving realm of exercise equipment and medical knowledge, as a few quick examples.
When it comes to our health, especially, there has been such a rapid increase of available technology that we can easily find assistance reconnecting with our physical and mental health. In fact, you could easily say that personal technology now covers the four cornerstones of overall health: physical activity, proper nutrition, mental health and medical awareness.
The need for physical activity often seems to be in direct opposition with living in the modern world. Only a lucky few manage to secure jobs that encourage adequate exercise during the workday. For the rest, the pressure to hit the gym, participate in strenuous activities on their own time, or to simply achieve the required amount of movement per day can not only be difficult, but an additional stressor in itself.
Luckily, there are a variety of smartphone apps and online tools to ease the pressure of moving enough to satisfy your doctor. My Fitness Pal is a popular free program, with an accompanying choice of multiple apps that help users easily track exercise and calories, and accomplish weight goals. Popular products like the Fitbit, which counts your steps for you, are easily connected to My Fitness Pal –eliminating any misconceptions about your activity level. Products like the Fitbit also allow you to add and track more movement throughout the day, so you no longer have to assume a long, after-work gym session is always needed.
There are plenty of other products that allow for tracking as the Fitbit and My Fitness Pal, all of which, at their core, are useful due to the knowledge they provide. Finding the best tool for you is crucial, though, since as writer Jennifer Cohen from Health magazine explains,
“Now’s the time to check out some of the hottest fitness apps for the new year. Getting fit no longer requires a pencil-and-paper workout plan or a hardback diet book. The latest apps can aid your fitness goals through interactive features, instant stats and tips, and GPS technology, as well as inspiration of the monetary variety.”
With the right tools, users can diminish any confusion regarding how much – food, exercise, weight loss – they are or aren’t doing. Apps can inform you of exactly where you are on your health journey, as well as provide tips, workouts and motivation to keep you happily on your way – no personal trainer certification needed.
But wait, you’re not solely concerned about the calories in every food item you purchase. In fact, for many health-seeking eaters, calories are the last thing on their minds. What’s more pressing are the ingredients: what foods are nutritionally devoid and which will make your body function as it should? You want to know if something is organic, gluten-free, vegan or vegetarian. You want to know what, exactly, is in your food.
And you should! Despite studies that pinpoint calorie counting as the primary factor behind healthy eating and unhealthy eating, and a decrease in calories as the first step to becoming “healthier,” all it takes is a living, breathing body to realize there is more to nutrition than one daily number.
At Harvard Medical School, Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology whose research has been cited routinely by documentaries and films such as Fed Up, is one of many who point out that the idea that we get fat solely because we consume more calories than we expend is based on archaic, outdated science. “The implicit suggestion is that there are no bad calories, just bad people eating too much,” Dr. Mozaffarian said. “But the evidence is very clear that not all calories are created equal as far as weight gain and obesity. If you’re focusing on calories, you can easily be misguided.”
And while technology and scientific research may have created the lab-born foods many try to steer away from today, personal tech tools are making a sincere effort to help users reconnect with ideal foods.
Apps like Fooducate, which are as easy as scanning a product in the grocery store, quickly rate the food item for nutritional value. The app, which was developed by scientists and dieticians, will also recommend healthier alternatives for low value foods, and can be personalized to the point of knowing your preferences and dietary needs, such as low-cholesterol, allergy concerns, dairy-free, etc.
The state of our mental health has been increasingly focused on in the past years. Being in a state of unbalance, whether it’s due to stress, anxiety, or other challenges, has been proven not only to cause weight gain, but to lead to other complications such as depression, digestive problems, asthma, heart disease, sleep issues and even memory and concentration impairment.
“Stress doesn’t only make us feel awful emotionally,” says Jay Winner, MD, author of Take the Stress Out of Your Life and director of the Stress Management Program for Sansum Clinic in Santa Barbara, Calif. “It can also exacerbate just about any health condition you can think of.”
That’s why being aware of and adequately handling stress levels and overall mental health is integral to our well-being. Smartphone apps and programs have yet to bring the psychiatrist directly to you, but they can help control stress and anxiety levels on a daily basis.
Personal Zen is one such app, developed by therapists and psychology researchers alike. “What this game is doing is trying to train your attention toward the positive,” says Tracy Dennis, a professor of psychology at Hunter and the lead researcher behind the game.
The game is modeled after a cognitive treatment for anxiety called attention-bias modification, which is based on the idea that if people can train themselves to ignore threatening stimuli and focus on good stimuli, stressful situations will cause less anxiety overall. A similar app is Northwestern University’s Mobilyze, as well as their web based interventions, which tracks users’ behavior patterns and moods to identify depression inducing states before they happen.
Expensive technology and medications may be what drives up the cost of visits to the doctor’s office and medical centers, but personal technology is poised to not only alter how healthcare is delivered, but also the entire patient experience, and even the cost of healthcare. Mobile and digital technology not only assists with basic health, but can also help with chronic disease management, the independence of the elderly, reaching medically underserved areas, and the efficiency of the entire medical system.
At the center of increased mobile and personal technology is better communication between patients and doctors. Draw MD is just one app that might help doctors explain the body’s symptoms more fully, so that patients can entirely comprehend their medical needs. A socially connected doctor might also more quickly recognize a disease, having seen it previously online.
As HealthITjobs.com notes, “hospitals are starting to leverage new technologies, especially mobile, to increase profitability by decreasing repeat visits and length of stay and free up clinician resources to provide better care. Activities like patient monitoring and post-treatment check ups can easily be done now using mobile apps integrated with EMR systems.”
Remote monitoring allows any patient to self-record and monitor their own health measurements, which can then be sent electronically to physicians and specialists. Doctors are then provided with increased data to provide a diagnosis or monitor ill and elderly patients, which results in less individual visits, and a direct lowering of healthcare costs. Apps like Healow allow patients to efficiently schedule appointments, securely message their doctors, and view lab results – which again means less time occupying nurses’ time, and more overall efficiency at home and at the medical center.
Today, underserved areas could possibly receive prognoses and diagnosis entirely online, with doctors able to see and observe the patient without being physically present. For more connected areas, increased healthcare technology is showing us a faster, more direct way of preventing, discovering and treating illnesses.
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