Getting Healthy With Tech

Introduction

Over the last few months, I’ve been working hard to get healthier. I’m diabetic, with high blood pressure, and overweight (like a lot of people in IT). So, I’ve been working hard to change that.

I’m also a tech nerd and a data guy. I’ve been using tech to track my progress, examine many critical metrics, and trend these over time.

I thought others may benefit from what I’ve done in this area over the last few months, and thought I’d share the tech and apps I’ve been using here.

Apple Watch

I use multiple platforms for my daily work, including Windows and Linux, but in my opinion it’s Apple who has health tech really nailed down. My Apple Watch is my first tool for tracking my health.

With it, I can track my exercises. Every day, no excuses, I do a minimum of thirty minutes of exercise although as I’ve progressed it’s turned into forty or more. I have an indoor exercise bike for rainy days, or on a nice day head to the great outdoors for a swift walk.

When I walk, I use walking / hiking poles to give my arms a bit of a workout. On days where I do my indoor bike, I do some weightlifting with some handheld barbells to work my arms.

My watch tracks the length of my workout, how many calories I burned, what the weather was like, and if I walk what path did I take, and what elevation change was included in my route.

In addition, it also tracks my blood oxygen level, heart rate, and has an ECG function. It also tracks my sleep to see how much rest I’m getting at night. The watch also has a cool little mindfulness app, which helps me calm down and focus.

Finally, it provides reminders to stand up every hour. Like a lot of IT people, when I get seated in front of my PC I get really focused and lose track of time. Suddenly 3 hours can go by. Then when I stand up my bad back has gone stiff, and my arthritic hips let me know they aren’t happy.

The reminder to stand every hour has really made a difference. Getting up and moving around hourly really helps eliminate those stiff and sore times.

Apple iPhone / iPad

The information in my watch feeds back to the Fitness and Health apps on my iPhone. Here I can review my information from the watch, combined with data from my other apps and tools, more of which I’ll cover momentarily.

As you can see, the fitness app gives me a nice dashboard of my progress. Today I did a 2.03-mile walk. My total exercise time for today was 50 minutes. Note that if I had done multiple exercise activities, for example 30 minutes on my bike and 10 minutes of weights, it would combine that time.

It also shows my total calories burned, along with my target for today. So far, I’ve done 440 of 600 calories for my day today. The fitness app helps you calculate your target, but you can override it. In addition, it will prompt you to increase it over time based on your past workouts.

For example, when I first started my goal was 520 calories. It then increased to 560, and now to 600. I’m sure in the near future I’ll be prompted to increase it further, although as I mentioned I can change this whenever I feel I’m ready.

Finally, it also shows how many times I’ve stood today, with a goal of standing up at least once during an hour, for 12 hours in the day.

The circles show your progress in a quick graphical format. Once the circle is closed you’ve completed your goal for the day, although it will continue the circle beyond the target. This makes it easy to challenge yourself to meet your goal.

Some refer to this as the “gameification” of exercise. Turning exercise into a game, much like trying to get a high score in a video game. While intellectually I understand what is going on, it’s still a fun challenge to meet these goals and very satisfying to see those circles close.

Beyond the software built into my Apple devices, there are some other devices and applications I use.

Basic App Requirements

Before I list the apps and devices, I wanted to list a few of my basic requirements in selecting health apps. You may not have these same requirements, so you may find other apps that work better for you.

First, the app must work on both iPad and iPhone, with bonus points if there is an associated app for the Apple Watch. I like to do my monitoring of data on the iPad (which has a nice big screen my old eyes can see) but be able to register things like taking my meds on my iPhone, which is generally handy.

Next, the app needed to sync between the iPad / iPhone. I found many good apps, but very few that had the ability to synchronize their information between devices.

Finally, it needs to be easy to use. My wife is also tracking her health, but while smart she’s not a technical person so it has to be good for an average user, and not just tech nerds like me.

Omron Blood Pressure Monitor

To keep track of my blood pressure I use a monitor from a company called Omron. They have multiple devices, mine has Bluetooth and allows for two users, which is nice as you can share with your spouse / significant other / pesky relative that won’t leave.

My model is the BP7350, but there are a range of models that support this functionality. In the Apple Appstore they have a corresponding Omron Connect app. It’s pretty simple, you take your BP on the machine, then open the app and it syncs that reading to the iPhone.

As you can see it displays my readings for today. I can tap the History button on the bottom to see my readings over time. Should my meter and phone not automatically synchronize, I can tap the Sync button in the upper right corner to have the two sync.

If you tap the + button, it brings up an additional menu. Tap on Profile, then App Settings and it will let you copy your readings into the Apple Health App.

Blood Glucose

Being diabetic it’s important to monitor my blood glucose (aka blood sugar) every day. For that, I use the OneTouch Verio Flex meter. While this meter is not in my insurance company’s “approved” list, it was only $26 (US). The test strips run about $22 (US) for thirty, about a month’s supply.

Both of these I happily pay out of pocket for the convenience of easily tracking my readings. There is a corresponding OneTouch app for the iPhone, it pairs with the meter over Bluetooth. I just take my reading and it automatically syncs to my phone.

As you can see it forms a two-way link to the Apple Health and Fitness apps. It copies my daily reading into Apple Health and reads in my workouts from Fitness. It also looks for and warns about negative trends.

And yes, before someone points it out, I know my sugars are way too high. Late last year we found out my previous meds had quit working. The doctor’s office says it happens sometimes. So, my doctor and I are working with different medications to see what is most effective for me. It’s still a work in progress.

I mentioned it is a two-way link, the app also writes my glucose numbers into my Apple Health app.

Weight Tracking

As you might expect as part of getting healthier, I wanted to lose weight. Thus, I needed an effective way to track it. Ideally, I wanted to be able to just step on a scale, and it be recorded in an app.

I already used some Wyze cameras, since I had the app already it was an easy choice to select the Wyze scale.

In addition to weight, it also has other measurements such as BMI. One tip, don’t step off the scale too soon. Let it read your weight in, then wait a second. It will then calculate its other measurements. At that point you can step off, and the readings will show up in the Wyze app.

On the screen that displays your weight, you can go into the settings (gear icon in the upper right) and turn on data sharing with third party apps, like Apple Health. At $33 (US) this was a no brainer purchase.

Hydration

Staying hydrated is important for good health. Especially for diabetics, as it helps keep the sugars flushed from your system.

Note, don’t take anything here as medical advice, I’m not a doctor, I’m just sharing what mine told me. Your situation may vary, so be sure to consult your own physician.

To track my hydration, and to get reminders that it is time to drink, I selected an app called WaterMinder. It has iPhone and iPad apps as well as an app for the Apple Watch. You enter basic data like your age, height, weight, and it calculates how much water you should take in.

To be honest this is the one failing I found with the app, the number it creates is about half of what every other site I found said I should be getting. For me it said 80 ounces a day, so I just doubled that, and overrode the goal to 160 ounces a day. Again, be sure to do your own research and discuss the proper fluid intake goals with your own doctor.

As you can see, the app provides a cute little graphic showing your intake for the day. So far, I’ve taken in 100.8 oz, or 63% of my goal. To add data, you can tap the + button and quick pick a water cup amount. Alternatively, you can tap the icon to the right of it, and it brings up a menu with various kinds of liquids and lets you type in how many ounces.

That’s one of the things I really like about this app. If you, for example, drink milk, it calculates how much water is in the milk then adds just that amount of water to your hydration total.

The app will sync between devices, but it’s not always automatic. You can force it though, although I didn’t see it documented. Just tap the + button, then tap outside it, and it will force a sync.

You can also share your readings with another user of the WaterMinder. I share mine with my wife, and she shares hers with me. We can see how much water the other one has ingested and encourage each other.

The app also has a nice history feature. It will show your trend over time, but for a given day it will also show you each individual entry. That way you can track exactly what you’d consumed that day.

Medication

Many people, as they get older, take one or more medications. Even younger, healthier folks tend to take one or more vitamins. As such, it’s important to have a way to track not just what medications you take but to remind you when it is time to take them.

I spent a lot of time trying a multitude of apps to find one that met my requirements. I finally found one called EveryDose.

EveryDose is simple to use. You enter in all your medications. Built in there is a list of valid medications, so as you begin to type you can then pick your medication from the list. Should your medication not be in the list, no problem you can elect to add it anyway.

You also enter the strength of the pill, for example 50 mg, then the dose, 1 pill, 2, 1.5 pills, etc. Like the medications, you can enter a custom value as well.

As part of the data entry, you can select a time of day to take the medication, as well as a frequency (as needed, once a day, once a week, etc.).

Note I’ve blurred out my prescription meds, but you can also enter your vitamins into the app to track them. When the reminder alert goes off, you can tell the app you took the meds on time, just now, or enter a specific date/time.

If you need to, you can go down the list and pick the meds you took individually. This is handy should you run out of a particular pill that day.

You can export your list of meds so you can easily share with your doctor or pharmacist, plus great logging so you can see which meds you have taken on what days.

The one thing it lacked was integration into Apple Health. I’d love to see it enter my vitamins and such into those areas in Apple Health. But its other features were enough to make me go with it.

Exporting Health Data

You can take your health data to the next level by exporting it. Once exported, you can add it to your own database, or most importantly share it with your health care provider.

To do that well, I found an excellent app called Health Auto Export. This is a multicomponent application. There is one app that runs on the iPhone itself. This app provides some simple reporting, but its main purpose is to run in the background and update your personal database. This data can then be used by the Health Auto Export iPad app, as well as their app that runs on MacOS.

The primary purpose is to export your health data to a variety of formats such as CSV. You can bring this into Excel or Numbers, then slice and dice to provide your doctor with just the information they need.

It also has a nice dashboard which you can customize. Here’s an example of mine:

This gives me an easy-to-use dashboard I can view on my Mac or my iPads. I can drill down, using the menu on the left, to get more details, along with trends displayed over various charts and graphs.

As I mentioned, the most important functionality for me is the ability to export data. This has allowed me to share with my doctor, which helps him adjust my medication and track my health.

Conclusion

As I work to improve my health, I’ve explored a variety of apps and tools to track my progress. I wanted to share what I’ve found so far in case you, too, are seeing to improve your health.

I said this earlier in the post but want to reiterate: I am not a medical professional, and I am not offering medical advice. Please consult your physician before embarking on any healthcare, such as exercise, hydration, medication, and the like.

For me this is a journey, a work in progress. It’s possible, even likely, that as time goes by, I will find other apps and devices to improve my health.

If you have suggestions, perhaps you’ve found a better app or device, then by all means share them in the comments so we can all get healthier. My slogan has become:

Exercise, hydrate, medicate, every day! No excuses. Be a monster!

ArcaneCode