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This post is by guest blogger Matthew Savage 

With so many people purchasing Fitbit, Apple Watch and other fitness wearables, it can sometimes seem that we are always relying on some piece of technology to tell us how to behave; it’s always time to move more or time to eat less. And with over 165,000 health-related apps available on the app store, it can be easy to rely on a multitude of apps to tell us what to do. Now, with the recent US release of the Halo “Wellness Tracker” from Amazon, wellbeing and wellness are to be tracked [1]. The device is said to listen to the wearers voice to understand how they are feeling using multiple advanced sensors. Understanding the tone of someone’s voice will help the app make suggestions as to the wearer’s emotional well-being and to make inferences on the level of stress they are currently experiencing [1]. But with regular concerns over big data and many fitness trackers lack of sound science, an overreliance on these apps can sometimes lead to negative effects. In addition to this, electronic devices can be highly addictive, leading some people to experience real levels of anxiety when separated from a device and disruption in sleeps patterns when using them too regularly at night. So, what can we do to keep an eye on our health and wellbeing, without relying on so many apps?

Our Mood

Everyone’s mood changes on a regular basis. The new Amazon Halo claims to be able to tell users the effect that stress may be having on the user by analysing their communication [1]. Whilst this sounds great, we can also manually check our mood and should make this a regular activity. Mood diaries can help to piece together what activities contribute to an increase in happiness and long-term wellbeing. Logging your thoughts and feelings after a certain activity may allow you to spot patterns of positive and negative behaviours. For example, a regular work activity may lead you to experience anxiety prior to the day, leading to feelings of nausea or shortness of breath the night before. In addition to this, we may feel our mood fluctuates greatly on a day we consume a high level of caffeine. Keeping a food and mood diary allows you to manually check patterns, instead of relying on an app to simply tell you. Being aware of the different impact foods can have on our mood is vitally important and this can change over time and vary as we age. How do we feel after we consume different types of food, drink or skip a meal? Only you can describe this lived experience and use it to make positive changes where necessary.

Sleep

Tracking our sleep is, of course, very difficult without monitoring brain waves. Apps claiming to track our circadian rhythms throughout the night and analyse our sleep quality are rarely accurate and are easily distorted. These apps can also mean that our mobile phones can interfere with our sleep patterns right before sleep. Whilst sleep apps can be very helpful for spotting patterns, could we again look at our activity diary for advice? Do we sleep better on days we exercise? Do we sleep worse on days we drink caffeine past 3pm? Whilst these apps use inactivity as an indication of sleep, they do not directly measure sleep. With this in mind, we still need to use the data collected and analyse it ourselves to be able to create a sleep hygiene regime that works for us.

Activity Levels

“I must complete my 10,000 steps” has become a common phrase among many people and is a target set regularly by Fitbit users. However, this target was set back in the 1960s as a rough guide to burning 2,000 calories per week through exercise and is certainly not for everyone [2]. Trying to follow this daily can become extremely arbitrary, boring and unfulfilling. This step count may also not be achievable for many people and striving to achieve it can cause more harm than good both physically and psychologically. Instead of this, why not consider other activities that may be more fulfilling and can lead to long-term wellbeing increases? Activities such as gardening can easily help us achieve the 2,000 calorie per week target, burning approximately 300-450 calories per hour to mow the lawn or raking and bagging leaves. Joining a sports team can also help to increase our wellbeing, adding more socialising to our schedule whilst completing the NHS recommended 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity aerobic exercise [3].

Electronic Device Detox

De-Sola Gutiérrez et al. (2016) revealed that problematic cell phone usage had been associated with sleep deficit, depression, anxiety, and stress [4]. These are all the things that our apps claim to reduce, with apps for sleep tracking, mindfulness activities and mood trackers. Because of these links, it is important to take regular breaks from our devices or indulge in a device detox regularly. Turning off unnecessary alerts, going greyscale on your phone to make it less appealing and following a solo screen rule of engaging with one screen at a time may help to improve productivity and concentration levels. Researchers at the University of Copenhagen found that flicking between devices can see our brains sending information away from the hippocampus, the “library of the brain”, and instead sending information to the striatum, an area primarily involved in planning movement and motivation [5]. This reduces our capacity for recall and thus solo screening can help to ensure we are absorbing the information we are trying to understand and enjoy.

Conclusion

Be selective with your apps and check that they are based on sound science. Some apps can be extremely helpful to support us in completing daily tasks but when it seems that we are working for our apps and the technology is not working for us, it is time to have a rethink. Could taking the data from a few select apps and manually examining our patterns be the more beneficial approach for our health?

About Matt Savage

Matthew Savage has an MSc in Psychology, is a qualified personal trainer, and has worked within the field of cognitive rehabilitation for 5 years. He is an FA qualified football coach, with a keen interest in moral behaviour and wellbeing within team sports. 

References

  1. Snuggs T. Amazon launches wearable wellness band that can ‘read someone’s emotions using their voice’ – Sky News [Internet]. 2020 [cited 30/8/20]. Available from: https://news.sky.com/story/amazon-launches-wearable-wellness-band-that-can-read-someones-emotions-using-their-voice-12058000
  2. Devlin H. Health apps could do more harm than good, warn scientists – The Guardian [Internet]. 2017 [cited 30/8/20]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/feb/21/health-apps-could-be-doing-more-harm-than-good-warn-scientists
  3. NHS government guidelines. Major new exercise guidelines announced. National Health Service [Internet]. 2011 [cited 30/08/20]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/news/lifestyle-and-exercise/major-new-exercise-guidelines-announced/#:~:text=Everyone%20should%20do%20a%20minimum,gain%20even%20more%20health%20benefits.
  4. De-Sola Gutiérrez J, Rodríguez de Fonseca F, Rubio G. Cell-Phone Addiction: A Review. Front Psychiatry. 2016;7:175. Published 2016.
  5. Rushton K. Using your iPhone in front of the TV is bad for your brain: Flicking between screens releases hormone that has same effect as being high on drugs – The Daily Mail [Internet]. 2015 [cited 30/08/20]. Available from: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3029430/Using-iPhone-TV-bad-brain-Flicking-screens-releases-hormone-effect-high-drugs.html
  6. Schukat M, McCaldin D, Wang K, et al. Unintended Consequences of Wearable Sensor Use in Healthcare. Contribution of the IMIA Wearable Sensors in Healthcare WG. Yearb Med Inform. 2016;(1):73-86. Published 2016.
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