Tracking lethargy to prod you to change

The problem with all health and fitness gadgets is that more than wellness, they are wired to track your lethargy and make you feel bad about yourself. Sanchita Sharma reports.

health and fitness Updated: Mar 10, 2012 22:17 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times

The problem with all health and fitness gadgets is that more than wellness, they are wired to track your lethargy and make you feel bad about yourself. Everything you do — and in most cases, don’t do — shows up in colourful charts and precise graphs that bring to mind economy-shattering recessions or that hated math class that made you wish your teacher was a low life-form facing extinction, preferably in another galaxy.

The logic driving the health-monitoring gadgets market is simple: if faced with our failings every day, we may consider making healthy changes in our lives. Simply put, you don’t need to wait for your annual health check-up for your doctor to tell you to quit smoking to control your chronic high blood pressure, or cut back on eggs and red meats to stop your arteries from choking up with cholesterol.

For most people, what works more than functionality is the number of things these monitors pack in. It’s a bit like the new-age watches: now that cellphones give you the time, watches have morphed into geeky gizmos that pack in almost as many innovations as an Apple store. If you haven’t already bought one with an altimeter, barometer, heart-rate monitor and pedometer, hold on for the bluetooth-enabled personal health-monitoring device that connects wirelessly to your smart phone to keep track of your body’s various physiological (health) parameters, such as temperature, heart rate, blood pressure and movement.

The prototype, developed by New Zealand researchers and reported in the International Journal of Intelligent Systems Technologies and Applications, can be expanded to include sensors for other specific diseases, such as blood glucose levels that need close monitoring in people with diabetes. Apart from medical sensors, this microcontroller-based unit has a positioning device that allows it to connect to a smartphone, which becomes a gateway to further transfer data to a clinic for remote diagnoses.

The big plus is that the connectivity allows you to send the bad news to your doctor’s phone or computer real-time for quick advice. The gadget uses software based on the familiar cross-platform Java system that provides users with a user-friendly graphical user interface (GUI) on any smartphone that uses standard navigation buttons.

It’s another matter, of course, whether your doctor actually looks at your input and decides to get back to you promptly. I find that following up the information transfer with a text message to your doctor — always choose a physician who answers text messages — works best.

Unreachable doctors are a major reason why most people prefer gadgets that store their health data on their phones or computers, from where it can be retrieved for analysis for their next visit to the doctor. The Withings BP Monitor (Rs 6,500) sends blood-pressure readings to your phone and saves it there for analysis, while IHealth’s blood-pressure monitor does the same at a lower cost (Rs 5,000). As the name suggests, MyTrek (Rs 6,500) tracks pulse, distance and calories, but only links to Apple devices (iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch). Fitbit’s Tracker Plus (Rs 5,000) counts your steps and your sleep movements, and graphs them online. For the chronic weight-watcher, the Withings scale (Rs 8,000) records weight, body fat percentage and body-mass index, which is then tracked in neat graphs.

For me, the fun is to just compare the wide swings in data that records the ups and downs of my life without my having a clue. It’s like personalised reality TV: you are centrestage and the only watching. And it’s entirely up to you to press “delete” or change your lazy ways.

First Published: Mar 10, 2012 22:15 IST