Technology is often seen as the enemy to fitness and at odds with the well-being of humans, who are distinctly natural beings. But whether we like it or not, technology is infiltrating every part of our lives in the developing world, from our sleep upwards. By embracing the new advances and the increasingly smart designs, technology can actually improve our health and support our quality of life.
The main argument against its case is its contribution to physical inactivity. According to the World Health Organisation, it is the fourth leading risk factor for death in the world, killing over 3 million people a year globally. Sitting at the computer or on a mobile phone and essentially losing yourself in the virtual world for hours is not what our bodies are made for, but as technology becomes smarter it is getting more in tune with human needs. The Nike+ Fuelband, for example, looks and acts like a regular watch, but by recording your heartbeat, sensing your movement and clocking the amount of calories you’ve burned it monitors your activity level and enables you to set goals to improve your fitness.
Another simple but widespread cause of ill-health is sleep deprivation. Sleep is the time when our bodies get to work hard to repair themselves, without interruption. Refusing our bodies that time has been clinically proven to be as damaging to the human body as alcohol, contributing to obesity, type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Apps like Sleepbot are designed to tell you whether you’re getting enough sleep or not, and they work to improve the sleep that you do have. Clocking into Sleepbot will silence your phone and switch of the wifi connection, preventing too many radiation signals infecting your sleep. These kind of apps are ever-evolving and improving, so look out for the latest advances.
As with getting enough sleep, it’s important to take enough breaks from hard work – and technology itself. Humans aren’t made to sit at desks and stare at computers for days on end, it damages our back and our eyes. EVO is a free Chrome and Firefox browser plug-in that actively shuts off your work for a while, forcing you to get up and move about or just to look at something else. Its 20-20-20 mode will make the computer screen black every 20 minutes for 20 seconds, or its 60-5 mode gives you 5 minutes of break every 1 hour. It’s a simple addition to the working day that will reduce headaches and have a massive effect on your overall well-being, in work and out.
Sitting at desks all day long also has adverse effects on our weight, especially if we’re snacking lots throughout the day. More than 2 in 3 adults are considered to be overweight or obese, and much of that will be down to not having time to think about what they eat. Many apps are available to help gently sway you towards eating healthier and/or less by collecting all the information on your diet in one place, rather like a digital version of You Are What You Eat. MyFitnessPal, for example, has the nutritional information of over 1.1 million barcoded items stored in its database, so you can scan in your daily diet and see exactly how much carbohydrate, protein and fat you have consumed.
Of all the apps and gadgets directed at the health market, however, probably the most successful is the e-cigarette. With physical inactivity at number 4, smoking is the leading cause of preventable illness and premature death, accounting for around 96,000 deaths a year in the UK. E-cigarettes offer a cleaner, greener alternative, which has revolutionised the fight to quit smoking. In 2016 there were 2.8 million e-cigarette users, and of the ex-smokers in that number 67% said that e-cigarettes helped them to stop smoking tobacco completely. Technology can’t cure human disease, but its advancements in smart design are finding new and innovative ways to help us avoid it, firmly establishing its place in modern, healthy living.