I started measuring details of my life in 1997 and have been doing so without missing a day for the past 7000 days. I log the times when I go to bed or wake up; projects I worked on and a score between 1 and 10 for my mental, physical and emotional status. By now, I have tested and used about 40 devices and gadgets that measure health parameters or vital signs.
Thus, I know that finding the right healthcare wearable is a struggle. Sometimes technology in itself does not provide much help. For example, the Amazon Wearable marketplace has so many devices, it makes even harder to choose. Also, there are many problems you might encounter. A bunch of technological problems might arise: the device requires constant attention, needs to be charged constantly, Bluetooth connections unpair randomly and synchronization might be a nightmare. And when you finally “master” technology, it takes the skills of an IT guru combined with that of a trained physician to interpret the data. Some makers of healthcare wearables are better than others at providing insight into how to live better instead of dumping meaningless data in the users’ lap.
But first of all, let me help you with finding the best health trackers and wearables. As the The Medical Futurist, I’m objective but as an experienced Quantified Selfer, I have my own choices which might also help you to live more healthily.
1) For having the best night’s sleep
You surely know from the tale of Sleeping Beauty that the survival of empires could depend on a good night’s sleep. Research shows sleep is very important to brainpower, health, beauty or overall well-being. Sleep trackers usually measure when you fall asleep, wake up and how much time you spend in deep-sleep. The latter is the most important, for me. For some people, how well-rested they feel depends on how much sleep they get. For others, it only depends on the amount of deep-sleep. As it’s pretty personalized, everyone needs to find their own solution. You can download my guide for a better sleep here.
- Pebble Time: measuring your sleep is only one of the built-in health tracking applications available to the Pebble Time family of smartwatches. Developed by Pebble in collaboration with researchers at Stanford University, Pebble Health automatically tracks when you go to bed, displaying sleep, deep-sleep, and the times when you fall asleep and wake up.
- Android Sleep App: this useful app can pair with your sleep tracker and wake you up at the best possible time so you’re rested and don’t feel groggy at all. The app can wake you with nature sounds, soothing music, captcha or puzzle alarms. It also helps you track your sleep, deep-sleep and warns you if you are running on a sleep deficit. The app even pays attention to the sound in the room while you are sleeping to catch you snoring, record you talking in your sleep, or help you diagnose sleep illnesses.
2) For staying fit and energetic
The most popular and widely known healthcare wearables are the fitness and sport activity trackers. Most smartphones already have built-in apps for measuring how many steps you take a day, whether you run (even to catch the bus) or bike. The activity trackers might also measure your pulse rate and create colorful graphs and charts to help you figure out the best ways to keep fit and healthy.
- Fitbit Surge: Of all the brands of fitness trackers on the market, Fitbit is the best-known, and for good reason. This touch-screen wristwatch not only tracks your steps and sleep, but also alerts you to incoming phone calls and text messages, keeps tabs on your heart rate with a built-in optical heart rate monitor and uses GPS to track outdoor activity. GPS is especially useful, as you don’t have to take your phone with you when you run or bike to track exercise. The tracker is reliable, easy to use and connects you to a great community with whom you can share your activities and even compete for the first place earned by the fittest.
3) For getting rid of stress in your life
Stress is one of the biggest health risks in the 21st century’s busy environment, full of constant impulses and distractions. As you probably know, stress might lead to heart disease, obesity, diabetes, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, anxiety – and even asthma. It reduces your level of focus, leads to bad sleep and decreases emotional well-being. It affects everyone – and I’m no exception. However, stress can be fought successfully with the help of technology.
- PIP: a tiny device designed to give immediate feedback about your stress levels. Its smartphone app helps you learn how to reduce stress by having you transform a depressing scene into a happy one by actively relaxing, giving you tips along the way. You just hold the PIP device between the thumb and index fingers to measure skin conductivity for a few minutes. The longer you can keep stress low, the faster the scene changes.
- The task takes me about 15 minutes, while my wife does it in about 4 minutes. Of course it stresses me to think about how much more stressed I am than my wife, at least according to the device. But I am working on it.
4) For keeping blood pressure optimal
Hypertension is one of the most common chronic conditions throughout the world. In the United States, nearly 80 million Americans have high blood pressure. Many clinicians and patients use home blood pressure monitors to help manage high blood pressure, helping with everything from medication titration to supporting lifestyle modification.
- Withings Blood Pressure: one of the earliest connected devices available on the market. It consists of an app connecting through Bluetooth to the blood pressure monitor itself. The app measures your heart rate, blood pressure and also counts the steps you take weekly. The Withings’ several useful features include the ability to set the monitor to take three measurements and report the average, which is consistent with medical recommendations. You can also set up reminders for various issues from taking your blood pressure to taking your medications.
5) For keeping track of your weight
For some people, measuring weight might constitute an unpleasant daily activity since obtaining and keeping optimum weight is one of the greatest challenges for many, in an age when people often assume the “perfect body image” equals success and health. It definitely does not, but weight still constitutes an important factor to our health. As you know, obesity might lead to heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and even stroke or cancer. On the other hand, being too skinny also leads to health problems such as anemia, low immune system or fertility issues. Thus, it is very important to find your optimum weight, right body mass index (BMI) and to measure it on a regular basis.
- Fitbit Aria: it is the latest smart gadget of the Fitbit-family. The smart scale tracks your weight and body fat percentage – preferably daily – and uploads the information to a cloud-based account over your home Wi-Fi network. The Fitbit Aria can sense up to eight different people, using historical data to work out who is whom. The best part for me is that it is connected to my FitBit account therefore I see my weight changes compared to the physical activity I have.
6) For keeping your heart healthy
Your heart beats around 100,000 times per day. If you allow smart gadgets to access, track and analyze your heart’s health, you can predict and even prevent a host of problems, including serious diseases such as a sudden heart attack.
- AliveCor Heart Monitor: a mobile phone based electrocardiogram. The tiny, slim and simple device attaches to your phone case. Its app has three main divisions: ECG recording, collected data, and a great educational portion. A great use for the AliveCor Heart Monitor is during an experience of symptoms that you have described to your physician in the past. Palpitations, for example, can come and go at random, and relevant data from the actual episodes yields helpful insights for healthcare providers.
7) For measuring your body temperature effectively
An optimal body temperature is important. You surely remember vividly when you fell sick as a child, and the first thing your mom did was check your temperature – which took long minutes of sitting still with a clinical thermometer stuck to your tongue or in your armpit. Luckily, recent innovations allow you to measure temperature in a fast and frustration-free way.
- Viatom Checkme: the world’s first medical tricorder, a proper medical multitool. It not only measures your body temperature, but also traces ECG, measures pulse rate and rhythm, oxygen saturation, systolic blood pressure, physical activity and sleep. It only takes a second for the device to determine whether you have a fever and should visit your physician, or you are completely healthy and can continue your day as planned.
8) For helping to meditate effectively
As you already know, managing stress is vital to your health. There are many ways to effectively reduce your stress level, and you should definitely spend time finding the best possible way to do so. A popular method is meditation, which has been scientifically shown to reduce symptoms associated with stress, depression and anxiety. Although you might not want technology messing with your brain; it might actually help you to reach a calm and relaxing state of mind easier.
- Muse headband: the brain sensing headband helps you get the most out of your meditation practice by giving you real time biofeedback of what is going on in your mind. The Muse is not some dystopian headset trying to alter your brain. Instead its makers, InteraXon want to train you to alter it yourself. The routine is simple. You put the Muse headset on, you complete the breathing exercises to the sound of waves (neutral), storms (bad) and tweeting birds (good) which indicate how focused and calm you are. If your mind is too active, the Muse gives you feedback to help you clear your thoughts.
9) For exercising in the most effective way possible
If the tons of information coming from every possible media channel, magazine and common sense cannot convince you about the health benefits of exercising, neither can I. However, you should know that according to the US National Cancer Institute, leisure-time physical activity is associated with longer life expectancy. And it does not matter whether you like to use the treadmill, do cross-fit or aerobic, some healthcare wearables can help you make the most of the exercises.
- Gymwatch Fitness Tracker: GymWatch is a fitness tracker that is not about counting steps. Rather, it wants to become your personal fitness coach or your professional performance diagnostician. This is a wearable that is built for the gym, specifically for people that head straight for the weights. Worn on the arm or on the leg, it helps you build muscle in the correct way and makes sure you are completing those reps properly. The tracker gives you visual and verbal, real-time feedback, and also connects you with its community of like-minded fitness enthusiasts.
10) For improving your general well-being
A mistake people often make when wanting to use technology to live better is rushing to buy a wearable device. Devising a way to optimize your life is up to you. A wearable can only show you data, which won’t be actionable if you don’t know what should be changed. I advise you to start by scoring your mental, physical and emotional health in a simple Excel or Google spreadsheet. Despite my numerous devices, I still use such a spreadsheet every day. It helped me to understand how my body works, and understanding the problem itself is the first step towards the solution. Living better starts with vigilance about our health rather than using technology.
I hope you will start upgrading your health and that you find useful methods and motivation in my experience.