The Latest Health Tech: Smartphones

Posted: Oct 21, 2016 6:00 AM
In these articles, you’ll often hear me talk about the dangers of the modern world. And it’s absolutely true. Whether talking about pollutants in your air, additives in your food,
electronic smog, or your choice of dozens of other challenges, the modern world is constantly assaulting your health. But today, I want to take a moment to highlight how this modern world can help, as well. Specifically, in your pocket or pocketbook sits one of the most powerful health tools ever created—your smartphone. You know that today’s phones are much more than phones. But they’re also much more than portable jukeboxes, handheld gaming systems, and invaluable navigation devices as well. Your smartphone is a health dynamo. Used correctly, it can do the work of a personal trainer, a nutritionist, and a gym class. Let’s take a look at why your smartphone is one of the more important tools in your healthy living toolbox. And why, if you aren’t using it to further your health goals now, today is the day you should start.

Food tracking

The hardest part about eating healthy in the US—aside from avoiding health-defeating additives—is dealing with portions. Food in America really only comes in two sizes: Extra-large and Ludicrously Enormous. The solution I recommend to all my patients is keeping a food diary. In the old days, that meant carrying around a notebook and writing down everything you ate. Then, later, you’d try to figure out what was in each of your meals. Today, it’s so much easier. Smartphone marketplaces are full of apps that do all the heavy lifting for you. You can simply put in all that you eat, and immediately find out how many calories you’ve taken in, what percentage is protein, fat, or carbohydrate, and track how much you’ve eaten in real time. That alone is enough reason to do it. But there are side benefits as well. Tracking your food intake means knowing the portion size you eat of everything. And simply knowing how much is there can help you see when a portion is bigger than you need. Tracking food also discourages too many restaurant and mystery meals. If there are twenty ingredients, or you just don’t know what’s in there, food tracking apps will make you think twice before indulging in what is almost always a low-quality choice. And finally, they provide immediate accountability. You’ll be much less likely to pick up that extra cookie if you know it’s going down in your diary or will bump you over your caloric goals for the day.

Activity monitors

You might not realize it, but your phone can also act as a pedometer through your day. Most have the ability bu ilt in, but if not, you can find plenty of apps that track your steps—and let you know exactly how many calories you’re burning. But it doesn’t end there. If you want to go for a walk or a jog, you can get detailed breakdowns of what you did, and what benefits you’re seeing. You can track yourself through aerobics classes, or simply see how much energy you burn doing heavy housework. Once you get started, it can be addictive. And if there’s one addiction I will encourage, it’s an addiction to exercise. If you like a little light competition, different activity apps will let you join groups full of challenges and leaderboards. You can see who amongst your friends takes the most steps each week, and try to keep improving. Or who logged the most miles walking after lunch last month. The possibilities are endless. It’s easy to be motivated to move and exercise at the beginning of a push. But holding onto that motivation is harder as the weeks and months pile up. Keeping track of your improvement, with concrete numbers, is a great way to stay engaged and keep at it when the temptation to just sit in front of the TV rears its head. (By the way, it’s fine to keep watching TV. Just take that as an opportunity to slow march in place or do some
chair exercises.)

Exercise lessons

Did you know that there are dozens of yoga apps available on your phone? From beginner’s lessons to advanced poses, you can have a professional guide and time you in your own home. And it’s not just yoga. Any exercise regimen you can imagine—there’s an app for that. If working out in a class full of strangers isn’t appealing, or you don’t have a nearby gym, your smartphone can bring the gym to you. You don’t need any weights or other equipment. You might want an exercise pad, but really all you need is a floor, a spare towel for padding, and time. No matter what your level, or what exercise you like, your phone can guide you through everything you need to get a little sweat going. And there’s simply no better way to get healthy. A body in use is a body in shape. You don’t need expensive classes. All you need is a little dedication and your phone. If you commit to keeping track of what you eat, exercising three times a week, and keeping track of your activity and progress, you’ll feel better, be healthier, and, in the end, be happier too.