There's no denying that technology has made our lives simpler and faster. We no longer have to hunt and gather our food or leave the house to acquire information, and many of us spend our days seated at a desk for our jobs. While having just about everything at our fingertips has eliminated some healthy behaviors in our daily lives, it's not all bad. Technology can actually help us create some healthy habits! Here are some suggestions from Dr. A for how you can use your smartphone to help with your health:
▪ 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. This is in my Android phone's screen settings - I'm sure iPhone and others have the same capability.
▪ 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.
▪ Customize your notification preferences. Many smartphone users never go beyond the basic settings of their devices, but most smartphones allow you to 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 alerts during work hours and perhaps get more selective about your notifications in general—turn most of them completely off, if you can. I turn my phone to DoNotDisturb at night. If you are concerned about emergencies, you can select these contacts to "ring-through" only. IF it's REALLY necessary!
▪ Turbocharge your brain. Since your phone is with you during your commutes and your daily walks, use that time to exercise your mind. Audiobooks (I use Audible.com every day!) are easier than ever to access and download, and podcasts (which are like on-demand, downloadable radio shows) are not only free, but also 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.
▪ 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 (unfollow) 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.
▪ 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.