Eight technologies for a healthier 2012


The Smart Blood Pressure Monitor from Withings is a traditional arm-strap blood pressure monitor that connects to an iPhone or iPad for instant readouts. (Robyn Beck/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Vivek Wadhwa
Contributor, Innovations January 3, 2012

Welcome to 2012 and a new list of New Year’s resolutions — a list that likely includes some variation on adopting a healthier lifestyle. Thanks to the acceleration of technology, fulfilling your resolutions this time around may be easier than it was in 2011.

The combination of diet, exercise and sleep, according to my Singularity University colleague Daniel Kraft, are keys to good health. Kraft, a physician-scientist who chairs the medicine track and runs the FutureMed program at Singularity, believes that we can end the obesity epidemic and reduce the incidence of “non-communicable” diseases (such as heart disease) through technology. Kraft helped me put together an assessment of the technologies available today that can help you fulfill your New Year’s resolutions for good health.

Vivek Wadhwa is a fellow at Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, director of research at Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke, and distinguished fellow at Singularity University. His past appointments include Harvard Law School, University of California Berkeley, and Emory University. View Archive

1. The Digital Mirror: A written commitment is a powerful tool when it comes to motivation. That power is enhanced when the commitment, and our failure or success in achieving it, is shared with others. Today, we can broadcast our weight, whereabouts, current song selections, and our latest meal over social media. You’re more likely to maintain your motivation to lose weight when you know your friends can see your gains and losses on an easy-to-read graph.

There more than 17,000 health and fitness applications in the Android and iTunes marketplaces. Exercise applications such as RunKeeper enable seamless pacing, tracking and scoring of workouts. My favorite when I go hiking is MotionX GPS—in addition to keeping track of how much and how fast I’ve walked, it remembers where I’ve been. Others like Skimble provide tracking and virtual coaches from a large library of workouts. There are apps for tracking your dietary indiscretions or to brag about your veggie intake. For example, The Eatery, enables you to crowd-source the healthiness of your meals. And for helping you count calories, there’s LoseIt—which claims that the average user loses 12 pounds.

2. Self-Tracking Devices: Logging in and recording data points have long been a barrier to self-tracking. Consider this barrier all but eliminated.

Web-connected scales like Withings, and blood pressure cuffs like iHealth, communicate with your smartphone and Web browser, recording your data with every use. They can also be configured to share your vital stats via e-mail or Twitter. For those who need to track blood sugars, the FDA just approved iBGStar, a glucometer integrated with the iPhone.

3. Move it or Lose it: The most effective therapy for depression, poor sleep, arthritic knees, heart disease, prevention of Alzheimer’s and many other disorders is exercise. As little as 30 minutes of active walking per day can make a massive difference in your health and longevity.

Wearable devices like the ‘FitBit’, which I use and which constantly motivates me to walk more, JawBone’s ‘Up’, and the pending ‘Basis’ heart rate and motion monitor, track the number of steps you take, calories you burn, and miles you walk. These devices provide dashboards, connect to your social networks and allow you to set goals and targets. Company divisions or work groups can leverage the social component to foster friendly competition. Meanwhile, new start-ups are emergingto engage and reward those who do.

4. Enhance the power of sleep: The power of a good night’s sleep is often under-appreciated. It’s all about quality and duration. Applications, resting under your pillow, can track your motion at night and help you develop better habits. By using the Zeo Sleep Manager, I was able to notice a significant difference in the quality of my sleep on days that I was checking e-mails after 9 PM, and when I turned my computer off early. Devices like Zeo and Lark bring much of the power of an expensive sleep lab to your home, and can help identify signs of diseases such as sleep apnea.

5. Genomes come home: We have seen the pricing of genomic sequencing continue to plummet at more than double the rate of Moore’s Law. It doesn’t take a complete DNA sequence to make use of one’s own genetic makeup. Consumer-focused companies such as 23andMe, Navigenics, and Pathway Genomics now offer partial genomic analysis (not a full sequence) for about $200—the cost of a high end pair of shoes.

While the “fun” side of ancestry and family background can be illuminating, several aspects of genetic predisposition can be actionable. Knowing, for example, that a relative has twice the risk of developing Type-II diabetes or a significantly higher propensity of developing cardiovascular disease may provide the necessary encouragement to stay in shape, modify your diet, or engage in earlier screening and prevention.

6. In Case of Emergency: Quick reference tools such as iTriage help enable rapid response, whether it’s finding and obtaining guidance on treating a minor burn or directions to the nearest hospital. They can, ultimately, be the difference between life and death. And in-case-of-emergency applications are improving on the traditional medical bracelet. These applications store essential information about you and provide emergency contact numbers.

7. Gamification: Anyone who has been addicted to a video game, or knows someone who has, can appreciate the power of immersion and interaction. Video-game developers are marrying physical and social activity, giving players an opportunity to exercise and socialize while they play. And web-based applications like HealthMonth are getting in on the game as well.

8. Mindfulness: Our attention spans have been keeping pace with technology in that they are getting shorter as technology is getting faster. The benefits of almost any form of mindfulness or meditation practice are well documented. And, as with nearly everything else, there’s more than one app to help you through it.

Hopefully, with a bit of help from technology, you will fare better at keeping your New Year’s resolutions than in previous years. The really good news is that this is just the beginning. Over the next few years, we will see thousands of new devices and technologies that will help you monitor and improve your health.

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