Technology and Health

I will fully admit that I am a tech addict. I love all cool tech things and have been that way for my entire life. The first time I ever saw a computer, I fell in love and I knew that I wanted to make a career out of it. Eventually that happened as I graduated college with a degree in computer science. But it is not just computers that I love, fancy TVs, watches, phones, fitness trackers, glucose and ketone monitors, scales that not only tell you your weight but your body fat and the weather, devices that stimulate and massage your muscles, anything really. As a software engineer and health coach it is pretty cool to see all the devices that have emerged over the past few years to assist people with becoming healthier individuals.

However the more and more things that come out, the more I am starting to realize the technology and health might be at odds with each other. Is all this tech hurting us or helping us? Is there a need to restrict tech in our lives, much in the way we need to restrict “pleasurable” food?

Dr. Andy Galpin has a nice short video on this topic that I think makes some great points.

The Good And The Bad

Lets look at something like a sleep tracker. Maybe you want to get a better understanding of how different lifestyle patterns effect your sleep, so you buy a device to more easily track your sleep patterns. You get the tracker and after a few nights you have a pretty good idea of your sleep patterns. Then one night you have a few drinks before bed and notice your resting heart rate was really high, and your deep sleep went way down. For some people seeing this data can instill a change, maybe next time they will only have one drink, or make sure they don’t drink so close to bed etc.

For someone else being able to track this data might end up being a stressor. Say one morning you wake up, you feel great, and feel like you had an excellent night of sleep. You open the sleep tracking app on your phone expecting to see a super high sleep score but instead it looks terrible. This might completely change the person’s outlook on their sleep and end up putting a lot of pressure on themselves to now have a good night of sleep the next night. This pressure causes them to have a terrible night of sleep and now they are suck in this pattern of bad sleep because of what the sleep tracker said.

Another good example is a food tracking app. It is very common for people who transition to a new way of eating to track their food for a bit to get a better idea of how much and of what types of food they are eating. Food tracking apps these days are great. They have huge, fairly accurate, databases of all kind of foods, just search for the food, enter the amount, and you can see not only the macros and calories for the food, but in lots of cases, the micronutrients as well. This makes it incredibly easy and convenient to learn what is in certain foods and how much of that food you should be eating.

For some people though tracking can be a stress. Perfectionists for example might need to make sure they hit every macro and micro perfectly and this can cause them to spend a lot of time planning out what they are eating. Some people become attached to tracking and if they can’t accurately track they won’t eat or avoid situations where they don’t have full control over the food they are eating so they can accurately track. This is not anyway to go through life and is actually detrimental to your health.

Is technology good or bad when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle?

There is no clean answer to this question, as with all things in health the answer is going to be individualized and different from person to person. In my opinion the best way to get a handle on health related technologies is to learn to practice mindfulness. By this I mean be in tune with your habit and learn to take an outside look at your use of the technology. Consistently ask yourself if the technology is serving you any more? If the answer is “No” then remove it, or at least remove your attachment to it. Mindfulness can also help you mediate your response to what the technology is telling you. If your sleep tracker is telling you that you had a bad night of sleep but you woke up feeling great and felt like you had a great night of sleep what matters more? Clearly it is how you feel. Don’t let the technology dictate your emotions.

How are you using technology in your health journey? Do you find it to be beneficial or detrimental? What kind of technologies are you super excited about? Let me know in the comments below!

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