The Best Apps And Gadgets For Staying Healthy

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About five years ago, I weighed in at 110kg - a lot of weight for a 178cm frame. I was unfit, lived a sedentary life and was on my way to many of the same health issues that claimed my father's life. These are the apps and gadgets that made a difference.

Staying healthy for as long as possible does take some effort. Fortunately, we live in an age where good information is available to help us on that quest although sorting the wheat from the chaff can be hard work. And we also have access to an unprecedented number of medical-grade (or close to it) devices that are affordable.

The "ah ha" moment in my weight loss journey came when I tried to play some basketball with my son. Not only was I knackered after 20 minutes but I tweaked a hamstring and walked like I'd been shot in the but for a fortnight.

Since then, I've dropped over 20kg, run a couple of marathons and participate in trail races (although I'm pretty much a mid-to-back of the pack runner). Along the way, Ive tried a stack of apps and devices to assist me along the way.

Here are some of the essential gadgets and apps I use to stay healthy.

A Decent Set Of Scales

I've owned a few different sets of digital scales over the last few years. I'm currently using a set of RENPHO Bluetooth Body Fat Scales I picked up on the cheap from Amazon. For $32, I get my weight and body composition. It all feeds into an app that works with both Fitbit and Apple HealthKit so you can bring together your body composition and activity.

Image: Amazon

I'm always a bit torn about using weight as a primary indicator of health. The RENPHO app, as well as many others, also provides information abut your Body Mass Index and composition - the amount of fat, bone, muscle and water in your body.

The data coming from the scales isn't what I'm most interested in. The accuracy of the body composition data isn't my main concern - what I'm looking at is trends. If my body fat is creeping up - the app provides graphs to show that - then I know I need to modify by diet or activity.

I know that when I weigh about 85kg that I feel better. That number still has me in the overweight range for BMI but it's important to note that BMI was never meant to be a measure applied to individuals. It was designed for use in population studies.

The other set of scales that I think are essential are those in the kitchen. There's plenty of research that suggests we're not very good at estimating portion sizes. I don't measure everything I eat. If the packet of two steaks says 500g, and the two pieces look about the same size I just assume I'm eating a 250g steak. But when I'm trying something new, I weigh it the first time so I know what I'm eating.

Calorie Tracking Apps

I've found that maintaining a food diary helps me be more disciplined with my intake. I'm currently using the Australian Calorie Counter - Easy Diet Diary. The app hasn't been updated in a while but it's good enough and I wanted to support a local developer by using it. It supports barcode scanning so you don't have to manually enter everything and has a searchable database of foods as well.

Image: App Store

The most popular app for calorie tracking is MyFitnessPal. Its database is far more extensive than Easy Diet Diary but after a recent data breach I've steered away from it. Also, I didn't really like the social networking element of it.

The other thing I like about Easy Diet Diary is that it allows me send my food diary to a nutritionist or doctor if I have a problem.

Sleep Tracking

Staying healthy is also about making sure you are well rested. That's pretty hard work at the moment. Between the new dog who needs at least two walks a day, trying to run regularly, work, shuffling five kids and spending quality time with my wife, things are pretty busy.

I use the Pillow app on my Apple Watch. It automatically detects when I go to sleep and wake up, producing a report each day that gives me an indication of sleep quality as well as time.

Image: neybox.com

When I'm feeling a little run down, I can look at the data to see if my sleep quality has been dropping, or whether I've been shuffling my bed time. Having a regular sleep/wake routine is is healthy and helps with things like digestion and mood.

Activity Monitoring And Goal Setting

This is perhaps the most important thing for me. I was a pretty early adopter of Jawbone's trackers but they had some significant quality issues and have now all but disappeared from the market.

Fitbit devices are very good and there's a tracker for almost every different occasion. The software is good and Fitbit plays well with many third party apps and services like MyFitnessPal and others.

As an Apple Watch user, I've settled into using the Activity app. I've been a long time (paying) Strava user and it's good but I was annoyed by a couple of things.

Firstly, I really just wanted a tracker and not another social network. Also, I found that Strava was modifying my times when I synchronised from my watch to the app. It was misreading the data and subtracting time, apparently because it thought I'd stopped running.

I also used Fitbit for a while and I'd recommend that as well.

The key for me is that the tracking system you choose, regardless of what you prefer, gives you achievable goals that are a little challenging. In my case, I strive for 30 minutes of activity per day, I make sure I burn at least 720kcal per day actively and I spend at least five minutes standing during each waking hour.

Other Helpful Tools

When you survey the market for health-related gadgets, there are literally thousands to choose from. The other tool I have is the Qardio. This is a blood pressure cuff that is fully automatic so you can track your blood pressure easily.

We have one as, when my wife and I are feeling unwell, we can use that, and our Kinsa Smart Ear thermometer to record information that can be useful for our doctor.

Although those aren't really about trying to drop a few kilos, they are useful when monitoring overall health and well-being.

I've also got a Skulpt Scanner which can be used to measure body composition but I've found that my scales are good enough.

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