Gadgets that tell us how our bodies are working have the potential to help, as long as we know how to use them says Dr Melanie Wynne-Jones
Welcome to the world of ‘wearables’ – armbands, watches and other items containing on-board mini computers that can monitor our body functions and lifestyles.
They are becoming increasingly sophisticated and popular.
We can now set goals and track our progress, share our information with others, and/or use feedback and inbuilt ‘coaches’ to improve our performance.
A simple step counter costs just a few pounds and I think everyone should wear one, even around the house, because it can tell you how far you’ve walked.
Aim for 10,000 steps a day.
Some brands measure your walking speed and estimate calorie usage, too. You may even want to try downloading the NHS ‘Couch to 5K’ running plan on to your smartphone – you could be achieving 5km runs in just nine weeks.
These include Fitbit, Intel, Jawbone, Garmin, the Apple Watch and other wearables and smartwatches.
They start at under £50 but some models cost hundreds of pounds. Some contain alerts to nudge you into moving.
More expensive wearable technology gadgets include GPS tracking, too. They can analyse your walking patterns, monitor your heart rate and tell you your peak speed and recovery times during exercise.
Runners can learn how much they ‘bounce’, their foot contact time and pace. Cyclists, swimmers and golfers can analyse their performances, too.
Many wearables let you record your smoking, meals, alcohol and calorie intake (some also have barcode scanners) as well as your mood, and the amount and quality of your sleep.
Some trackers work with smartphone apps, but many apps can now do some of the same jobs themselves.
And you can synchronise your results with apps, such as Myfitnesspal, get feedback, set new goals, show graphs or trends, and/or share your results on social media.
Monitoring your health
Taking regular measurements can help us to monitor our own medical conditions.
While not strictly wearable, if you have raised blood pressure, diabetes, asthma or chronic obstructive airways disease, you may want to buy a blood pressure machine, or ask your GP to prescribe blood glucose monitoring strips, or a peak flow meter.
These can help you and your GP to improve your condition, and spot early warning signs. You can also construct (and allow your GP to see) your own confidential Personal Health Record usingthe online Patient Access service (formerly EMIS Access) and Apple’s Health app.
Wearable technology could improve diagnosis or protect us, too.
Scientists have already developed a sports mouthguard that detects potentially dangerous head injuries, hairslides that monitor sun exposure and devices intended to help us to stay calm – by flagging up breathing or sweating changes linked to anxiety.
But too much recording or sharing our health information could one day lead to difficulties in areas such as employment and insurance. So you might want to think before you link.
4 Low-tech ways to track your health
1 A tape measure – or a piece of string! Keep your waist less than half your height to reduce heart disease risk.
2 Bathroom scales – calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI) by multiplying your height in metres by itself and dividing it by your weight in kilograms. Aim for a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9.
3 Home blood-pressure monitor (you can find recommendations at bhsoc.org) – to check your BP is healthy or that any medication you are taking is effective.
4 Notebook – to record results, immunisations and when various health checks are due.