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Health & Wellness

Six Ways to Use Your Smartphone to Support Good Health Habits

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There’s a powerful tool to enhance your health right at your fingertips that you might be overlooking. Namely, your smartphone.

According to a survey released by Pew Research in early 2017, roughly three out of four Americans between 50 and 64 own a smartphone, and ownership among those 65 and older is increasing.

Meanwhile, an AARP survey reveals that among smartphone owners 50 and older, the top five ways they use their mobile devices are sending emails, getting directions or traffic information, getting news, visiting websites and accessing social media.

While that’s all well and good, there are other ways to use your smartphone to help boost your well-being or even help save your life.

Make vital information available for emergencies

Smartphones can allow you to create a Medical ID that provides critical information, such as medical conditions and allergies that could be essential in an emergency. The Medical ID can be accessed by first-responders or emergency room staff without having to unlock your phone. The ICE Standard App — the name stands for “in case of emergency” — functions similarly as a digital emergency card that responders can check for critical health information and emergency contacts if you’re unconscious or unable to communicate verbally. (Search “create medical ID on phone” and “ICE Standard APP” for how-to info.)

Get motivated to move

There a plethora of fitness tracking apps available to monitor your activity levels throughout the day – some are free and others are not, it really depends on what works best for you. You can find lots of apps that will tally the steps you’ve taken and the distance you’ve covered. (Search “pedometer” in your app store for dozens of free options.) Some provide motivation, such as a screen that changes color as you approach your activity goal for the day.

Remember to take your medication

Up to half of the 187 million Americans who take one or more prescription drugs don’t take their medications as prescribed, according to the Network for Excellence in Health Innovation. That may lead to serious health consequences.  When people are prescribed multiple medications to take throughout the day, keeping track of what to take and when to take it can get complicated. The right app can help.  These apps may include pictures of your medication, send notifications when it’s time to take each prescription, provide information on drug interactions, and include family monitoring. For example, if you don’t swipe that you’ve taken your 6 pm dose of your medication, an alert would be sent to a family member, or whomever you’ve chosen, so he or she can call and remind you. Likewise, you can use an app to remotely track that a loved one is taking his or her medication.

Keep your workouts in your pocket

Whether you’re on the road or not able to make it to the gym because of weather or scheduling challenges, you can still enjoy a fitness class. For example, Go4Life from the National Institute on Aging offers sample workout videos from 10 to 60 minutes that you can access from your computer, tablet or smartphone. The videos cover strength, balance and flexibility, and require little equipment (a stable chair, a towel, light hand weights and a tennis ball for strength training moves).

Practice food safety

 The FoodKeeper app, from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, provides storage and cooking information that will help you keep food fresh longer and avoid food poisoning. You can set calendar notifications that alert you when it’s time to toss those eggs, chopped meat or frozen chicken breasts. And, the app offers handy reminders on how long to cook poultry, meat and seafood. The Is My Food Safe? app from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is divided into categories that include “Is It Done Yet?”, “Time to Toss?” and “Is My Kitchen Safe?” to answer all your food-safety questions from when to get rid of leftovers, how long to cook the rib roast and how long to rinse your hands in water after handling raw meats (for the record, the answer is at least 20 seconds).

Know when to put your smartphone away

One of the most important ways you can support your health with your smartphone is being sensible about when to ignore it. Driving while texting or answering emails is a well-established accident risk. So is using your mobile phone as a pedestrian, or what’s been dubbed “distracted walking.”

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