Using technology to build and reinforce healthy habits

Eat more fruit and veggies, work up a sweat, and reduce stress

For years, people looking to eat better, exercise more, or feel more centered might have relied on a professional such as a dietician or a life coach to meet their goal.

Today they are turning to their phones.

That’s because of a host of mobile apps that help consumers change their diets, start a workout program, or achieve greater emotional stability.

The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., recently did a study of the helpfulness of online health programs. In it, researchers asked cardiac rehab patients to use an app to get information about healthy lifestyles. They asked these patients to report what they ate and how much they exercised.

Compared with patients that got standard medical care, those that used the app lost more weight, had less cardio-related emergency room visits and re-hospitalizations, and had improved overall health behaviors.

What’s more, these apps are easy to use and help people adopt a wide range of healthy lifestyle habits such as eating more good-for-you foods and maintaining a good mood.

Reduce stress with meditation

Some people blow off steam by going for a run or calling up a friend to talk through their day.

Others use meditation – clearing the mind of distracting thoughts and focusing on the present – to ease psychological stresses such as depression, anxiety, and pain.

Some apps have been found to boost the hormones that make you happy and keep you calm.

Apps such as Headspace and Calm are an increasingly popular way to meditate. They allow users to choose relaxing sounds, images, and music to help them calm down and de-stress.

Psychological treatment such as meditating lends itself especially well to mobile app technology. That’s because they:

  • Are easy to use
  • Help create a healthy habit
  • Are rewarding

Eat healthier by keeping a food journal

Want to lose some weight? A proven way is to keep track of what you eat in a mobile app. They have been shown to double one’s weight loss.

Studies show that the use of smartphone apps resulted in users eating more of the following kind of foods:

  • Lower-calorie
  • Lower-fat
  • High-fiber

A second benefit? Those users also exercised more, which resulted in even more weight loss.

Examples include MyFitnessPal, a free app that lets you input your meals and snacks, then calculates how many calories you are eating each day.

Play some tunes and be happier

Chances are, you listen to music while commuting or cleaning. It turns out that music has health benefits beyond keeping you entertained while doing a chore.

It’s been found to boost the hormones that make you happy and keep you calm. Music also acts as a powerful motivator when working out. Listening to your favorite tunes:

  • Increases the production of cells that boost the immune system
  • Reduces the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body

Of course, we can’t always be near our radios or music collections. That’s where mobile apps come in. There are several – including Pandora and Spotify – that let you make your own playlists or choose a set of songs based on an artist or musical category.

By choosing music with the help of an app, you’ll be able to change your mood or emotional mindset on demand.

Use data to stay healthy

Those writing down the amount of walking they do each day can put their pencil and paper away.

That’s because there are scores of mobile apps that keep track of personal information such as:

  • Daily calories consumed
  • Number of daily steps taken
  • Amount of sleep gotten

One way logging this information in an app is better than jotting down notes on a pad is the apps’ ability to track success over time. Take the Apple® health app. It creates charts that show users everything from their calories consumed to their physical activity by day, week, month, and even a year.

Engage in a little friendly competition

It’s been proven that working out with others makes one enjoy exercise more than if they did it alone.

There are several apps – including Nike Run and MapMyRun – that remotely match you up against your friends to accept challenges such as:

  • Running a mile in a certain time
  • Training for a 5K together

An added bonus is being able to stay in touch with friends you don’t see as much as you might like. Research shows that connecting socially like this strengthens the immune system, speeds up disease recovery, and may even increase life expectancy.

If you’re interested in adopting more healthy habits or just maintaining your current lifestyle, it makes sense to take advantage of tech innovations to keep track of your emotional and physical well-being.

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