How health technology shapes us

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Health technology is nothing new. EKG machines and defibrillators have been used in hospitals as far back as most of us can remember. But digital, hand held and personal health technology? Now that's another story.

In the past several years, we've seen an explosion in such health technology. Whether it's a calorie-logging application or a exercise-tracking wearable, almost everyone has some kind of digital wellness tracker on their smartphone or their body.

It's easy to see why we're obsessed. For the first time, technology has closed the gap that used to exist between doctors and mere mortals. The information that we used to have to pay a trained professional to provide about the mysteries of macro- and micronutrients in now available for free on our hand-held touch screens. And, while it's hard to tell which came first, societal trends toward healthier lifestyles and transparency are certainly adding fuel to the fire.

So, I started chatting (and possibly harassing) my favorite test group – the Integrity team – to find out what kind of wellness apps and devices we're using and why.

How health technology shapes us (literally)

In a brief and very unprofessional survey, I found that MyFitnessPal is the Integrity team’s most used wellness app by far. Runkeeper came in second with only half as many users. Withings, Strava and Fitbit all tied for third, with only two users each. Other respondents used a wide variety of health and fitness apps, including Sworkit, MapMyRun, Fitocracy, DietPoint, Pacifica, Tabata HIIT Timer, the Activity app for Apple Watch, the Nike+ suite of apps, Spotify Running and – my personal favorite – Zombies, Run!

Calorie counting? That's for amateurs.

Kylia, one of the newest members of our development team, first realized that health and fitness apps were a thing around 2012 or 2013 - around the same time that she got her first smartphone.

“My first health app was probably MyFitnessPal,” Kylia said. “I wanted to be more aware of what I was eating/how much I was exercising. It actually became a stressor after a while, so then I looked for apps that were more minimal/were more about food journaling than precise calorie counting.”

Kylia stopped using wellness apps altogether until she set out to find one that would help her with a different type of health – mental.

“That eventually led me to Pacifica,” she said. “A friend reblogged a ... Lifehacker article, I think? About the top 10 anxiety/depression/mental health apps. I stuck with it because it was easy to use/not tedious. It's also designed well.”

His first smart phone also started it all for Integrity web developer Kevin.

“I think I discovered a calorie counting app like 3ish years ago when I got an iPhone 4,” he said. “It was my first health related app and I probably used it for a solid week.”

That was all it took before he decided that calorie counting wasn’t for him. While he's currently on weight-loss journey, and shrinking more and more every day I might add , he’d rather eat healthily and rely on his memory to keep track of his general caloric intake throughout the day.

“I do use the fitness app Strava to track my cycling because speed, distance, elevation, etc. are stats that I cannot calculate in the moment with my brain alone,” Kevin said. “Strava also tells me how many calories I've burned on my ride at the end, which I compare with what I know I've eaten that day.”

...or for those with super-human patience

On the flip side, project manager Libby really enjoyed MyFitnessPal...while she used it.

"I started using it around the first of the year," Libby said. "You know, New Year’s resolution season and all. I used it very diligently for a few weeks, but then I kinda fell off the bandwagon."

Libby had the same issue that a lot of people have with calorie-counting apps. "It did meet my goal, but it was a little more effort than I was willing to put in," she said.

"It’s a good concept," she said. "If I ate simpler meals it would be better. But I do a lot of home cooking, which it supports, just not easily. Even if you eat out or eat lots of pre-packaged foods, it’s still very time consuming."

Where are the wearables?

As for wellness-tracking devices, they're surprisingly absent among the Integrity team. I have a suspicion that the underlying reason is the same reason we're not all driving to work in Porsches - cost.

Kylia doesn't wear one mostly because the cost isn't worth the benefit for her.

"I'm worried I'll get one and won't like it/won't find it useful," she said.

"So that's something I've been wanting to get," Kevin said about a wearable that can track your heart rate. "Strava lets you connect with Bluetooth-enabled heart rate monitors. This way it compares level of effort during your ride to increase the accuracy of the data. Although, for the best results the product selection is limited. Apple Watch was supported when it released so I figured that's the one to go for. Now I just need to find $500 laying around..."

Project manager Steffani, however, does take advantage of a Jawbone wearable. She syncs her MyFitnessPal account with the device to take advantage of the app's fitness feedback. She's been using it for over two years to keep tracking of her body measurements and food intake over time.

The future of health technology

Advances in health technology have shaped our culture, and our team, in previously unimaginable ways. Food-logging apps give us the kind of nutritional insight we can actually use to improve our health and wearable devices allow us to monitor and change our sleep habits and heart rate. While it's impossible to predict what the future of digital health technology might be, we can't wait to watch as it helps people live happier, healthier lives.

Are you wearing your FitBit as you read this or dreading logging that grilled cheese you had for lunch in your calorie-tracking tool? We'd love to have a conversation about how health technology shapes YOU on Facebook or Twitter.

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