Younger generations have been experiencing health in a way never encountered before, with the availability of phone apps to quantify exercise and calories. Phone manufacturers like Apple offer health-focused apps to track seemingly every variable in a person’s life. The App Store is also saturated with other software bundles that claim some variation of helping the user lose weight or otherwise maintain good health. The functions range from mileage trackers for runs to detailed nutrition facts on all food intakes, to programs designed to make you get better rest at night. The novelty of your watch telling you to stand up and move around is undoubtedly cool, but is there actual usefulness in this expensive tech?
One type of fitness app that may be unfamiliar to some are sleep trackers. Any insomniac will tell you how much a good night’s rest will impact the coming day, but how much can a high tech sleeping pad really help? It turns out the answer is entirely clear cut. No commercial tracker can directly measure sleep cycles, so they instead rely on data such as movement and heart rate at night. This can often result in the apps not addressing any issues actually disrupting rest. Perhaps technology will improve in the future, but real concerns will still be best answered by a doctor.
Many people are aware that what you eat makes as big an impact on your health as physical activity. The availability of calorie tracking apps lets anyone track their food intake. Just add meals and the app will tell you what you can eat for the rest of the day. The problem with this is that users can become obsessed with the idea of calorie counting and then avoid higher calorie healthy foods like avocado or olive oil. Many nutritionists stress that moderate consumption of even less healthy foods is better than eating fifty servings of low calorie foods or drinking a liter of diet soda. Again, it’s best to leave the health advice to doctors for now.
Probably the most commonly used health app are fitness trackers. I personally use my smartwatch to track heart rate and distance on my runs and gym excursions. For the fitness-inclined, these can be lifesavers when developing workout plans or to see when you are pushing yourself too hard. A negative side-effect is how this functionality forces itself into everyday life. Many may find themselves constantly checking how close they are to their step goal for the day just like they would refresh an Instagram feed. Sometimes you can’t address the push notification telling you to be more active if you’re in the middle of a lecture. These apps cultivate a dependence to their data, which may be difficult to break like any other app addiction. The endorphins that come naturally from exercise should not be overshadowed by the chemicals released from seeing that you walked more than average for the day. The concept and goals of fitness are shifting from simple healthiness to constant improvement at any cost, for better or for worse.