How Your Smartphone Can Make You Healthier

Is technology helping to make us healthier — or just the opposite?

Looking around, you’d probably guess the latter. Worldwide, obesity rates have more than doubled since 1980, with almost 2 billions adults classified as overweight in 2014. As technology develops and automates more and more tasks, people are living increasingly sedentary lifestyles. Not getting enough exercise increases your risk of health problems including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, anxiety and depression, and even certain types of cancers.

With that in mind, the steady march of technological progress seems like it might do more harm than good. Why go outside and exercise when you’re surrounded by entertainment at home? The United States now boasts an average of 5.7 Internet-connected devices per household.

We’re constantly surrounded by screens, and not just at home. Around the world, mobile devices outnumber people. Could the ubiquity of smartphones be a contributing factor in our worsening health?

Smartphones almost certainly impact our social health as people prefer to stare at their screens instead of making conversation or even eye contact. But has our addiction to playing Angry Birds, instead of going outside and seeing real ones, contributed to a decline in our physical health as well?

In fact, the opposite may be true. The increasing ubiquity of smartphones has also given rise to a booming smartphone healthcare industry.

Thanks to new smartphone apps and other developing new technology, anyone can now monitor their heart rate, track diet and exercise routine, and keep an eye on their blood sugar levels without complicated or expensive equipment. Going forward, experts predict that smartphone health apps will “reduce our use of doctors, cut costs, speed up the pace of care and give more power to patients.”

How can you put your smartphone to work to improve your own health?

Check out the graphic below for the best health apps for iOS and Android, plus new fitness devices that put the power of technology work for you.

How Your Smartphone Can Make You Healthier

How Your Smartphone Can Make You Healthier

There’s no question that cellphones are essentially ubiquitous — 90% of US adults have one. But it’s Internet-connected smartphones that are of most interest to researchers and developers in health care. We use our smartphones for practically everything else, why not use them to make ourselves healthier, too?

Who Tracks Their Health (and How Do They Do It)?

  • 58% of American adults own a smartphone
    • 52% of those with smartphones have used them to look up health or medical information
  • 19% of smartphone owners have downloaded at least one health tracking/managing app
  • 60% of American adults track their:
    • Weight
    • Diet
    • Exercise routine
  • 33% track health indicators like:
    • Headaches
    • Blood pressure
    • Blood sugar
    • Sleep patterns
  • 70% of US adults track at least one health indicator (for themselves or another person)
  • 7 million Americans used diet and fitness apps in 2013
    • Up from 43.9 million in 2012
  • 20% of consumers surveyed by Rock Health said they would like to use mobile healthcare tech to monitor their health and fitness
  • 88% of physicians surveyed said they would like their patients to be able to monitor/track their health at home
  • 55% of those who use mobile health tracking apps plan to integrate the following into their health routine:
    • Pedometers
    • Wristbands
    • Smartwatches

Venture capital funding for digital health grew from $968 million in 2012 to $1.4 billion in 2013

The Apps

Health tracking apps allow users to track and monitor their health from their smartphone.

Apple Health

  • Cost: Free (comes automatically installed with iOS 8)
  • More of a meta-app than a health tracker itself
  • Organizes information from other health tracking apps installed on a user’s device in one place
  • Allows users to create a customizable “medical ID” accessible from the emergency call screen
  • Even locked phones will be able to display any of the following:
    • Name
    • Known allergies
    • Emergency contact information
    • Blood type
    • Organ donor status

Fitbit

  • Cost: Free
  • Automatically tracks daily steps and distance traveled
  • Users can log food calories by selecting them from a database
    • Users can also scan barcodes for items not already included
  • Users can create weight loss goals
    • Then they enter their weight, food plan, and record their sleep
    • The app uses graphs and charts to show progress towards users’ goals
  • Social features allow users to:
    • Share stats
    • Challenge each other
    • Send direct messages
    • Compete on leaderboards
  • Users can record workout lengths and see them on a monthly exercise calendar
  • Wirelessly connects with the Fitbit wristband and Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale

Withings Health Mate

  • Cost: Free
  • Automatically tracks daily steps taken
  • Manually measures heart rate using iPhone camera
  • Users can upload:
    • Weight
    • Weight loss goals
    • Time slept
  • Pedometer will show:
    • Calories burned
    • Progress towards a daily goal of 10,000 steps
  • Users can compete against friends in a weekly step challenge

MyFitnessPal

  • Cost: Free
  • Calorie counter and exercise tracker
    • Users with an iPhone 5 or above will see their caloric allowance increase as they take more steps
  • Users enter what they eat, including quantity and portion size
    • A large database of different foods is available with a useful search feature
      • Includes recipes users have uploaded, brand-name foods, and restaurant dishes
    • Users can also manually enter caloric amounts for homemade recipes
  • Breaks down daily caloric intake into:
    • Carbs
    • Fat
    • Protein
  • Can send push notifications to the phone for reminders
  • Daily summary shows:
    • Calories consumed so far today
    • Calories burned so far today
    • How today stacks up against user-created goals

Argus

  • Cost: Free
  • Sleep:
    • Wakes users up within a 30-minute window of their lightest sleep period
      • This ensures that they wake up at their most refreshed, increasing the quality of their sleep
    • Monitors sleep quality and duration
  • Food:
    • Create a food diary by snapping pictures of meals
    • Calorie counter tracks:
      • Calories consumed
      • Calories burned
  • Hydration:
    • See hydration levels by entering amount of water, tea, and coffee consumed per day
  • Exercise:
    • Pedometer tracks steps
    • Can set goals for walking/running/biking
      • Social aspect lets users share goals reached with friends
    • Heart monitor allows users to manually track heart rate

Moves

  • Cost: Free
  • Pedometer that tracks:
    • Walking
    • Running
    • Cycling
    • Time spent on public transit
  • Uses GPS to map daily routes
    • Storyline shows time spent moving vs stationary
  • Estimates (but doesn’t calculate) calories burned

The Devices

There are a number of different devices that can connect to smartphones and apps, giving users an even clearer picture of their health and fitness.

Heart Rate Monitors

MIO Link

  • Cost: $99
  • Doesn’t require a chest strap
  • Heart rates are EKG accurate
  • Connects with ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart
  • Water resistant up to 30m
  • Colored lights show heart rate zone alerts
    • The five zones are:
      • Blue: Very Light (50-60% max heart rate)
      • Green: Light (60-70%)
      • Yellow: Moderate (70-80%)
      • Violet: Hard (80-90%)
      • Red: Maximum (90-100%)

Zephyr HxM BT

  • Cost: $55.45
  • Uses Bluetooth to connect to a number of different apps, including:
    • Endomondo
    • Strava
    • SportsTracker
    • Runtastic
  • Water resistant up to 1m
  • Measures:
    • Heart rate
    • R-R Interval
    • Speed
    • Distance

Wristbands

FitBit Flex

  • Cost: $99.95
  • Uses a built-in accelerometer to track:
    • Steps taken
    • Calories burned
    • Hours slept
  • Users can create goals for these categories
  • LEDs will light up to show progress made toward these goals
  • Can wake user with a silent, vibrating alarm
  • Wirelessly connects to smartphones and computers
  • Keeps seven days of minute-to-minute data
  • Keeps 30 days of daily calories, steps, and distance
  • Up to five days of battery life when fully charged

Jawbone UP

  • Cost: $79
  • Tracks:
    • Steps
    • Distance
    • Calories
    • Active time
    • Idle Time
  • Connects wirelessly with Bluetooth Smart to a number of different apps, including:
    • Runkeeper
    • MyFitnessPal
    • Nest
    • Wello
    • Sleepio
  • Up to 10 days of battery life when fully charged
  • Water resistant (but do not submerge)
  • Can create Idle Alerts, which vibrate after a set amount of time to inspire activity
  • UP will wake users at the lightest part of their sleep cycle in a 10, 20, or 30 minute window of their alarm

Scales

Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale

  • Cost: $129.95
  • Tracks:
    • Weight
    • Body fat %
    • BMI trends
  • Uploads data over Wi-Fi
  • Can automatically identify up to 8 users
  • Primarily intended for the FitBit app, but can connect with up to 13 different apps, including:
    • Lose It
    • Endomondo
    • TargetWeight

Smart Body Analyzer

  • Cost: $149.95
  • Measures:
    • Body fat
    • Weight
    • BMI
    • Heart rate
    • Air quality (looks at temperature and CO2 levels)
  • Able to recognize up to 8 users
  • Can connect to up to 100+ apps, including:
    • RunKeeper
    • MyFitnessPal
    • LoseIt!
  • Users can download their data as a CSV (comma-separated values) document at any time
  • Uploads data over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi

Google’s Project Ara

  • A modular smartphone, has a prototype module that works as a pulse oximeter
  • This device measures a person’s blood oxygen levels

The Future

Apple’s Apple Watch will integrate with a number of different health and fitness apps, and automatically keep track of several things, including:

  • Calories burned
  • Time spent moving
  • Time spent idle
  • Steps taken
  • Heart rate

Ginger.io is an Apple/Android app that monitors a user’s habits and acts as an early warning system caregivers whose patients suffer diminished mental capacity (such as those with dementia or Alzheimer’s)

  • The app measures:
    • Movement (distance and to where)
    • Calls placed (duration and to whom)
    • Text messaging patterns
  • When users deviate significantly from the norm, care providers are alerted

Sano Intelligence is developing a non-invasive transdermal patch that can analyze blood chemistry without needles and transmit it to nearly any device

  • The prototype can already measure:
    • Glucose levels
    • Potassium levels
  • The goal is for the device to measure everything in a metabolic panel:
    • Glucose
    • Kidney function
    • Electrolyte balance

“There’s nothing more important than our good health – that’s our principal capital asset.” — Arlen Specter

Sources

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