Pineapple Supply Co./Pexels
Source: Pineapple Supply Co./Pexels

We live in a digital world. This reality comes with both benefits and potential drawbacks. On the one hand, we love our access to endless information and entertainment. On the other, we may worry that we’re spending too much time looking at a screen. We may feel guilty when we spend several hours surfing the web, or when we hit ‘watch next episode’ on Netflix for the fourth (or fifth) time in a row...

We also shame big technology users: People who play video games are depicted as zombies. We say, “Go outside! Get your eyes off your phone and do something active! Step away from the computer and improve your health!”

But do these two areas of our lives, health and tech, have to be mutually exclusive?

Say it with me: “NO!”

Internet and cell phone-based health programs give us a way to use tech as a tool to positively influence our health. So good news: This spring, you don’t need to reject the tech to improve your health. Here are four ways you can get healthy with the assistance of digital devices:

  1. Quit smoking: When you’re trying to quit smoking, one thing is going to be on your mind: smoking. But something else will likely also be with you this whole time: your cell phone. With the mhealth program, StopMySmoking (SMS), you can receive personalized text messages that encourage and guide you on your quitting journey. SMS helps you pick a ‘quit day’ and sends you text messages throughout the day for several weeks, especially those times when you’re most likely to catch a craving. A study of the program found that 39% of StopMySmoking users had quit 4 weeks after their quit day [1]. And best of all: It’s free!
  2. Improve your diet: When life gets busy, it can be difficult to eat healthy. Who has time to be mindful about their diet? That’s where apps can help. Programs like Cron-O-Meter can be downloaded to your computer or smart phone, and they allow you to track what you’re eating, add more nutritious foods to your diet, and learn new, healthy recipes. Studies show that keeping a food journal is connected to increased weight loss [2][3]. Oftentimes, we don’t realize what we’re putting into our bodies and in what amounts -- Trackers give us this awareness, which can be the first step to change.  
  3. Reduce eye fatigue: Whether you work in an office or as a student, you’ve probably experienced the eye fatigue that comes with looking at a computer screen for long periods of time. This is one of the downsides of extended tech use. But, also through technology, we can reduce the impact of a screen. Download an ‘eye rest’ app, like EyeLeo, to your computer and you will get eye exercises and rest breaks at specially timed intervals throughout your day.
  4. Meet your fitness goals: If the gym is too expensive, time-consuming, or maybe just too public for you, give a fitness app a try. A recent study of exercise apps found that users of these apps were more likely to exercise during their down time than were nonusers [4]. With 8fit, you can create a fitness plan, access workouts tailored to your goals, and track your progress. Or Sworkit provides personalized video workouts – your phone or tablet can be your personal trainer. You choose the type of workout you want, and the app will match you with a video that suits your desire. Wearable tech like Fibits and Apple watches can help you gain a better awareness of how active you are (or are not) day-to-day. Admittedly, they are more expensive than apps however. Even an app like Pokemon Go can help you reach your goals: It improved the health of many of its users by increasing their physical activity [5].

Certainly, moderation is key. Tech’s influence on our health can be good or bad; it’s all in the way we use it. If you find that screen time is cutting in to time you could otherwise be spending connecting with loved ones, getting needed sleep, or staying physically active, try to pursue balance. Embrace digital technologies as tools to enhance, not get in the way of, your health.

Learn more about our research at Center for Innovative Public Health Research.

Find us on Twitter and Facebook.

Acknowledgments: Thank you to Hannah Madison for her contributions to this blog.

References:

[1] Ybarra ML, Holtrop JS, Prescott TL, Rahbar MH, Strong D. Pilot RCT results of Stop My Smoking USA: A text messaging-based smoking cessation program for young adults. Nicotine & Tobacco Research. 2013;15(8):1388-1399.

[2] Kong A, Beresford SAA, Alfano CM, et al. Self-Monitoring and Eating-Related Behaviors Are Associated with 12-Month Weight Loss in Postmenopausal Overweight-to-Obese Women. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 2012;112(9):1428-1435.

[3] Burke LE, Wang J, Sevick MA. Self-Monitoring in Weight Loss: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2011;111(1):92-102.

[4] Litman L, Rosen Z, Spierer D, Weinberger-Litman S, Goldschein A, Robinson J. Mobile Exercise Apps and Increased Leisure Time Exercise Activity: A Moderated Mediation Analysis of the Role of Self-Efficacy and Barriers. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 2015;17(8):e195.

[5] McFarland M. Pokemon Go could add 2.83 million years to users' lives. CNN. 2016.

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