It wasn’t so long ago that staying active and healthy was achieved just by going about our day-to-day business. Our jobs involved more walking around, shopping meant carrying things, and housework involved actual effort!
But technology has changed all that. Now it’s all email, eBay and the dishwasher. And one of the results (aside from more time to watch The Voice) is that, no matter how old you are, staying healthy is harder now than it once was.
Well, now technology is fighting back, with clever people coming up with ways to harness the technological revolution to get us up, help us eat better, and generally stay healthy and happy for longer.
Yes, there’s an app for good health. Of course there is! There’s also a wristband, a smartphone-enabled ECG machine and, soon, a device that works with your phone to tests your testosterone and Vitamin D levels based on a saliva sample. That’s if you’re happy to spit in your phone, of course.
While we’re waiting for all this, here are some of the best ways you can use technology to keep on top of your health today.
If you’ve got a smartphone, you’ve got a powerful fitness tool. Fitness trackers like RunKeeper and Strava track your walking, running or cycling and provide stats to show how you’re progressing. Even if it’s just a daily amble around the garden, you can get competitive by sharing and comparing stats with friends or the community. Some apps, like C25K (‘couch to 5 kms’), Daily Yoga and FitnessBuilder act like pocket personal trainers to help you reach your goals, without getting shouty in your face, Sergeant-Major style.
Easy-to-use MyFitnessPal is a calorie counter with a huge database of over five million products – it’s just a matter of scanning the barcode. It’s also an exercise tracker that will calculate how many of those calories you’re burning off. Lose It! has a Jenny Craig-like regime of target weights, graphs and encouragements to help you reach your weight-loss goal. There are also apps for food-specific tracking, to help you avoid carbs or ingredients you have an intolerance to.
Sadly, though, there’s no magical hand that slaps your wrist as you go to grab another Butternut Snap.
Fitbit, Apple Watch and Garmin are the big names in devices that keep constant track of all your body’s vital statistics. For now, wearable means wristband, although futurists promise that soon we’ll be able to use smart t-shirts, shoes and even contact lenses to track our body’s inner workings. It’s bad news if all you want to do is lie in bed watching gardening shows: Steps stepped, calories burned, heart rate, sleep quality – your every moment can be tracked by these gadgets; statistics, graphs and progress all charted by accompanying smartphone apps. What a world!
Smart devices to monitor health conditions
More useful is the health technology that is making inroads into areas that used to require a visit to the doctor. Smartphone blood pressure monitors, cups that tell you when you need a drink of water, glucose meters that let you take a blood sample and plug it into your phone for a reading, a device that gives you a DIY ECG, and bathroom scales that track your BMI and help you lose weight. None of these replace doctors; instead, they give you a wealth of information on your day-to-day health that may help your doctor make a better-informed diagnosis.
But they could mean fewer visits to the G.P. giving you more time to watch those gardening shows. No, I mean, go for a walk.
Withings blood pressure monitor
Apps for brain health
Let’s not forget that big grey muscle between your ears. The science is out on the effectiveness of apps for brain training – are they any better than doing a crossword every day? – but it’s definitely true that we need to keep cognitively active right through our lives. Popular apps like Lumosity and Elevate, both based on fun, colourful mini-games, promise to boost memory and attention spans, problem solving and flexible thinking – and they’re probably at least better than playing Solitaire on your phone.