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The Health Potential of Your Smartphone

One of the key drivers for obesity has been the forward march of technology. Our ability to invent new ways to make life easier moves much faster than our bodies can adapt, so we are left with Stone-Age programming in an advanced world. We don’t have to work as hard to feed ourselves each day as our ancestors did, and spending almost an entire day seated at a desk or on a couch is completely normal for much of the developed world.

This has been a consistent theme in the Habits of Health—understanding how our programming differs from the world around us so that we can find ways to reintroduce healthy behaviors into our lives—but technology is not all bad. As much as I wish that we would all spend less time in front of our screens, there is no denying that the phones we keep within arm’s reach have a lot of potential for good.

Here are some ideas for how you can use your smartphone to help with your health:

  1. Filter out blue light. We have known for some time that the light emitted from our screens disrupts our circadian rhythms, making it difficult for us to fall asleep at night. While you should still honor a digital sunset (turning your phone off an hour before bed), you could also benefit from downloading an app that filters out the intensity of blue light, transitioning your phone to a much less jarring red-hue as you wind-down for sleep.
  1. Use reminders to reinforce habits. Whether you use a high-powered task app or simply take advantage of your phone’s alarm function, setting reminders for even fundamental habits like your regular fuelings or stopping to meditate can help to pull you out of the momentum of your day. When you are caught up in the rush of daily life, a simple alert can go a long way.
  1. Customize your notification preferences. Many smartphone users never go beyond the basic settings of their devices, but for most smartphones you can tailor much of how your phone works to your own tastes and needs. For example, late evening notifications and pop-ups can quickly inject stress and distractions into your routine, so consider setting your phone to only display email alerts during work hours and perhaps get more selective about your notifications in general—turn most of them completely off, if you can.
  1. Turbocharge your brain. Since your phone is with you during your commutes and your daily walks, use that time to exercise your mind. Audiobooks are easier than ever to access and download, and podcasts (which are like on-demand, downloadable radio shows) are not only free but cover a wide range of topics. You could enjoy some fiction or learn something new, challenging your brain to synthesize new information and to be more engaged.
  1. Clean up your social media influences. Social media can become an addiction, but it can also be a tool for staying connected to worthwhile communities. While I still believe you should limit your daily social media time, when you are online, be selective about what voices and people influence you. You don’t have to block your negative uncle, but maybe turn off alerts for when he posts something new. And when you follow new people or groups, try to limit yourself to those who are upbeat and whose activity supports your optimal health journey.
  1. Experiment with health apps, but don’t forget about the Habits of Health. Tools like Apple Health are powerful data collectors, and many people enjoy the novelty of seeing their own health data pile up, but that novelty often wears off. Health apps today do not have the behavior and community support that we know—from research and years in the field—is necessary for creating lasting change. That does not mean you can’t have fun with health apps (some even let you sync your run to a zombie escape storyline!), just don’t expect them to be silver bullets.

If we look at technology through a Habits of Health lens, we can start to redirect the conveniences that might lead to Habits of Disease and harness their power to help us create health in our lives.

Do you use your smartphone to support your Habits of Health? Share your ideas in the comments below!

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