Susan Davis Gryder 2013-02-28 05:07:34
Using today’s technology to get and stay well. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE “WELL”? We’re in a continual search for it, but it defies easy definition. And that’s because my wellness—my state of physical and emotional health—is different than yours . And our respective paths to wellness are equally personal and particular. One-size-fits-all approaches are outdated solutions. Just as we turn to a vast and increasing number of communications channels (phone, e-mail, instant-messaging, text, social media) to connect with others, we can turn to different technologies to connect to wellness. Technological tools can provide valuable assistance in your pursuit of all forms of wellness, from weight loss to physical activity to managing addiction and handling stress. In recent months, the Consumer Electronics Show and other technology expos have showcased a wealth of nifty gadgets designed to help with wellness quests. A family member touts the virtues of a new tracker she says makes the old-fashioned pedometer look like an abacus. One of the nightly news shows highlights a new smartphone app for anger management. A colleague swears by the inspiration she receives from a daily motivational blog. How do you find what’s right for you and your needs? It might take a little trial and error, but if you’re struggling to resurrect your New Year’s resolutions, experimenting with some of these helpful tools— some free, some not so much—might be the kick-start you need. Set aside an hour or so one night this week or next weekend to research some of the available options. This article provides just a sampling of options to get you started! [inter]net losses = gains Tools for Weight Loss Since the earliest days of Weight Watchers in the 1960s, people have been encouraged to keep track of everything they consume as a strategy for more mindful eating and consequential weight loss. It’s a proven strategy: In 2011, the National Weight Loss Registry at Brown University studied people who lost weight and kept it off, and researchers found that tracking food intake was a key predictor of success. Fortunately, technology only makes tracking easier; in fact, a recent study from the Cochrane Library (an independent website for “highquality evidence for health care decision making”) showed that participating in online weight loss programs increases dieters’ success in losing weight and keeping it off. That’s great news for all of us who are glued to our smartphones, computers and tablets! If you decide to use tracking technology to help you lose weight, you’ll have many offerings to choose from. Many are free, while some require a subscription. The best ones offer a smorgasbord of options, including nutrition education, improved accountability through tracking, access to the support of a virtual community, articles and other information to keep you motivated and, of course, plenty of recipes. Most also incorporate activity and exercise tracking. If you’re looking for free tools, you might start with sparkpeople.com. This popular free site can be accessed on your computer as well as via an iPhone, iPad, Android device or Blackberry. SparkPeople offers a food tracker and customized meal and fitness plans. It has a very active community, with “Spark Teams” of other users who can help you with motivation and support. SparkPeople also has a spinoff, SparkTeens, aimed specifically at teenagers. The health and wellness portal site Livestrong also offers a free weight loss site called thedailyplate.com. The site provides a calculator for calorie intake, goal-setting tools, a log for fitness activities and suggested ways to track progress. Users also will find articles, recipes, a blog and a support forum. If you want to mix it up a little, the website/iPhone app FitClick offers you a choice of weight loss approaches, with a heavy emphasis on fitness. Choose among the Neanderthal Diet, the Diabetes Diet, the Carb Reduction Diet and many more, or use the search function to set parameters like personal health conditions, the number of meals per day you wish to eat, calorie range and how long you expect to stay on the diet. The website will use this information to suggest particular diet regimens for you to try. In addition to tracking your caloric intake, FitClick gives you a way to calculate the calories you have burned during the day. The site’s online community is active, and participants encourage regular sharing of weight-loss approaches, favorite workouts and goals. Fee-based options also abound. The granddaddy of weight-loss groups, Weight Watchers, offers a web-based tools program, which allows you to follow the popular program entirely online, either in place of or in addition to in-person meetings. Weight Watchers uses a proprietary point system to calculate food intake, with allowances for activity, too. In addition to tracking tools and an extensive food database, the online support program includes community forums, recipes, blogs, articles and more. A mobile phone app syncs with your web-based account to provide easy assistance on the go. Fitday.com is another online resource with a reputation for an easy-to-use, attractive interface. While the basic version is free, users have the option to upgrade to a no-ad version for about $5 per month, receiving enhanced functionality in return. Users go online or use the Fitday app to track food and activity, set goals and monitor progress. Fitday’s graphics are particularly useful; food logs can be converted into infographics, providing a fresh view of how your meals and snacks break down into such categories as percentage of fat, carbs, protein and others. For additional fees, Fitday provides users with access to a dietitian for customized advice and support. If you want a completely portable option, check out Lose It! for iPhone, a mobile app that’s highly rated for its ease of use. Lose It! allows you to personalize your plan and goals, set a calorie “budget” and track food consumption and exercise levels, as well as goals for other wellness aspects, including sleep, macronutrients and body measurements. The premium version costs $39.99 annually and allows you to upload your weight from a wireless scale and your steps from a connected pedometer; track your blood pressure from a wireless monitor; and connect with sleep monitors, running additional apps, such as MapMyRun and exercise trackers like Fitbit (see page 33 ). The premium version also enables you to set group weight loss and fitness challenges for you and your friends, family or colleagues. If you want to step beyond the computer and smartphone, designers are eager to provide you with souped-up technology to aid your weight-loss efforts. The Withings WiFiBody Scale ($159) measures a variety of factors, including weight, body fat, lean muscle and body mass index (BMI) and sends the information wirelessly to its website or iPhone app. You can link your Withings scale data with other online health programs and add an optional BP monitor. Fitbit and Wahoo make similar scales. Also new on the horizon: the smart fork! The HAPIfork , which debuted at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, has a motion sensor that tracks how many times it’s lifted to the mouth. If you eat too fast, the fork vibrates to alert you. The fork can download statistics—how long you took to eat your meal, how many times you raised your fork during the meal and the intervals between bites—to your computer or smartphone, so that you can track how fast you eat over time. The fork’s manufacturer expects it to come on the market soon for $99. It’s intended to help with weight management, gastric reflux and other digestive problems. better bytes for better bites Tools to Encourage Mindful Eating Even if you’re not trying to lose weight, technology can help support healthier eating habits. Of course, one of the best ways to ensure that you’re eating healthy meals is to make them yourself. But, at the end of a busy day, when you’re faced with the choice between stopping at the grocery store with no ideas or lists or simply dialing up for local pizza delivery, a little extra support can help you to make the better decision. There are dozens of mobile apps that can make that supermarket stop a bit less daunting. Some, like Grocery iQ, Shopper and Grocery List, let you build a database of shopping lists, and some of these include barcode scanners so you can electronically check items off your list with your mobile phone as you place them in your cart. If you don’t know what to make for dinner, a recipe app can help. The popular website AllRecipes.com offers a Dinner Spinner app that allows you to search for recipes by ingredient, create a shopping list and check off items using the scanner in your smartphone. The Cook’s Illustrated app for iPhone and iPad also provides recipes and shopping lists, with the added benefit of Test Kitchen instructional videos and a timer built into each recipe to keep you on track. To help you pick your produce, check out Harvest, an app that guides you to what’s in season and how to tell when things are ripe. Or check out Locavore, which can tell you what’s really local and in season in your part of the country. And if you must buy packaged items or stop at your local fast food joint, consider downloading Eat This, Not That! This fee-based app teaches you to swap unhealthy choices for healthier ones in a variety of foodservice settings, and it includes a wealth of nutritional information for items served at popular chain restaurants. active apps Tools for Stepping Up Your Fitness Regimen Have you been reading about the so-called “data-driven life”? It’s a reference to the increased leveraging of the Internet and tiny, sophisticated sensors, accelerometers, GPS locators and more tools to measure and track our every move and change. Fitness and exercise is one of the easiest ways to use and benefit from the data-driven approach, and the number of fitness-related data-gathering tools is growing every day. While sports monitors have been around for a long time, the newest crop of offerings provide lots of options and high-tech features. For example, the top-of-theline N9 GPS Sports Monitor ($249.99) from New Balance can be worn like a watch, but wants to be your all-in-one fitness gadget, allowing users to track and log exercise time, distance traveled, heart rate, laps/ splits (oh, and it tells time, too). If you work out in a gym, you might want to check out the Polar RCX5. At over $300, this monitor isn’t cheap, but it can interface wirelessly with certain gym equipment so that your heart rate and other statistics can be displayed during your workout. The conventional pedometer registers movement so you can see how far you’ve walked during a given time. Now, technology has taken pedometers to the next level, too. Gadgets like Fitbit ($60 to $100) clip onto your clothes and track steps taken, calories burned— even sleep quality! These microsystems send the info back to your computer or smartphone so you can view it, keep track and strategize about improvement. Nike+ Fuelband ($149) is a particularly complex (and expensive) version of this concept. Worn like a bracelet, the Fuelband measures your activity through the movement of your wrist and uses a proprietary logarithm to come up with “Fuelpoints.” Accumulate enough Fuelpoints and you earn a green rating for the day. The Fuelband uses an LED for a sleek, high-tech display readout, and it is water-resistant so you can keep it on even in the shower for those vigorous scrubs! Indeed, Nike hopes you will wear it 24/7. The Fuelband connects to your computer with a USB connector or syncs with a smartphone via Bluetooth. Once you download your Fuelband data onto the Nike+ website, you can track your progress by the day or over time and analyze your progress with a wide variety of graphs and charts. Don’t want to wear the band? Nike also sells shoes that have built-in trackers that can sync to your Nike+ account. Do you need music to make your workouts sing? If so, check out the iriver ON headphones ($199). These tiny earbuds play music, while measuring and recording such statistics as heart rate, respiration rate, calories burned, steps taken, level of aerobic fitness and more. The headphones will sync with your smartphone so that you can see your data whenever you want. Need more monitoring? Coming soon is workout wear from Electricfoxy that contains sensors to monitor your body’s position during exercise. If your workout posture isn’t correct, the shirt vibrates to let you know. Whew! These gadgets can require big investments to keep track of your fitness activity. But if you don’t feel you need a dedicated piece of technology to wear, keep in mind that there is an abundance of similar apps for your phone and computer. For example, most of the free and paid weight-loss apps already referenced in this article feature activity trackers. Don’t want one that focuses on weight loss? MyFitnessPal is a good place to start—this free online activity tracker and journal has apps for all mobile devices, and lets you download data directly from your Fitbit, too! There also are dozens of apps dedicated to helping you improve in a favorite, specific sport or fitness activity. Check out those for yoga (Yoga Stretch and All-In YOGA ), cycling (Strava Cycling ), Pilates (Pilates Interactive ), swimming (iSwimTimes ) and much more. And if you’re a runner, check out Runkeeper, which incorporates social media channels and allows friends to view one another’s running progress, connect with trainers and participate in support clubs. For a particularly unique taste of adventure, why not try Zombies, Run! This app for iPhone, Android and Windows features 33 different zombie-related tales. Listen to them on your headphones, complete missions as you run and rack up the miles! twenty-first century harmony Tools for Stress Management Meditation is a low-tech way to practice mindfulness, reduce stress and bring harmony into your life. But, like most things these days, there are apps to help you with it! Most of the ones we’ve highlighted here are available for free or a minimal fee. Buddhify for iPhone and Android provides 32 “urban meditations” for you to practice in different settings, such as walking, working out, commuting and so on. Buddhify allows you to choose your location (such as the gym, traveling, walking or home) and your meditation “goal” (clarity, serenity, etc.). Two lengths of meditation are available: 3 minutes and 10 minutes. Meditation Oasis offers apps for iPhone, Blackberry and Android, as well as a conventional website (meditationoasis.com) featuring a comprehensive overview of the practice of meditation, as well as an online journal. The site includes programs specifically designed to help you address anxiety, relieve worries, improve breathing and relaxation and fall asleep more easily. You can customize your meditations with music and nature sounds. A podcast and blog also are available. The Mindfulness Meditation app has online and iPhone versions; users will find six guided meditations that last between 5 and 40 minutes. This app has detailed instructions and suggestions for body position and other meditation techniques. Headspace on-the-go for Android and iPhone is a good choice for short, 10-minute guided meditations. Are you a meditation veteran? Meditator for iPhone might be for you. This simple tracker doesn’t include guidance or instruction, but allows you to track and time your preparation, meditation time and intervals. You can select a chime to announce the end of each step, as well as ambient background noise like forest sounds, the ocean or a storm. For a more social experience, Headspace for iPhone integrates with Facebook and Twitter so you can share your meditation progress. well, well, well Tech Tools Can Support Wellness and Create Community Whether you are embarking on a new quest for wellness or fine-tuning your current plan, you may want to take advantage of some of these technological advances—with more being developed every year! It’s interesting to note that the most popular apps and websites include a social aspect, allowing users to reach out and connect to others—from all around the world—who are working toward the same goals and struggling with similar issues. Let one of these technology tools inspire you to get out, get moving, get healthier, get through a difficult time and get happier! SNAPSHOT ■ You can find technological tools to address all forms of wellness, from weight loss to stress management. ■ Smartphone apps allow you to access your wellness tools on the go. ■ Many of today’s wellness tools incorporate a social media component for added support. TRIED-AND-TRUE TENSION RELIEVERS Is stress a given in today’s busy world? Well, yes, to an extent, but life also offers you many simple ways to offset and relieve your stress load. The following tips can to help reduce your frantic pace just a bit, by saving time and focusing on yourself. Remember, every new positive step takes repetition to become a habit! Make Time for You ■ Hug a pet. While you surely show your furry friends love on a regular basis, take a few minutes to do so mindfully, with your undivided attention. Most of us can literally feel tension melt away when spending time with an adoring animal. Some universities arrange for shelter animals to be available for students to cuddle and play with during final exam time, and pet visits to assisted living facilities are another proven mood booster. Don’t or can’t have a pet at home? Consider offering a neighbor or friend occasional pet-sitting/walking services—it can be a stress-reliever for both of you! ■ Take a nap. Sleep, even in short bursts, can work wonders! Can’t fall asleep during the day? Set aside at least 15-30 minutes to just sit or recline in a quiet space, without stimuli from a television or smartphone. Close your eyes. Allow enough time for your mind to quiet; count your breaths or meditate on a single image or sentence to stop your thoughts from spinning. Or you might try a head-clearing walk, a hot bath or some other form of “me” time. Make a commitment to do this regularly; schedule it on your calendar if necessary, so that you keep this appointment as you would any other. ■ Do you feel stressed about trying to fit exercise into your schedule? Keep in mind that even a brief bout of physical activity is valuable for stress management, and you can break your exercise into chunks. For example, if you can’t fit in one 30-minute walk, take three 10-minute walks as an alternative. Making time for fitness will increase your brain’s production of endorphins (or “feel-good neurotransmitters,” as defined by the Mayo Clinic). Mayo also notes that regular exercise can increase your self-confidence, reduce mild depression and anxiety and improve your sleep. ■ Make some time for arts and crafts! It can lead to a sense of completion while allowing you to focus on something fun. Been meaning to catch up on your scrapbook projects? Almost done with knitting that baby blanket, but need 30 more minutes? How about sorting through all your vacation photos and picking a few to enlarge and frame? Also, consider seeking out community classes that will introduce you to a new artistic pursuit. BONUS WEB CONTENT You can find technology tools to help you pursue other areas of wellness. Grieving the loss of a loved one? Struggling with anger management issues? Need support to overcome an addiction? We’ve identified a number of options to explore, and you can find these online at www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonuscontent. Susan Davis Gryder is a freelance writer in Silver Spring, Md. Photography by iStockphoto.
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