(Editor’s note: This article from Alex Siegman is from the Spring 2017 issue of Brain World magazine.)
There is no question that technology can lead to a sedentary lifestyle. It has become increasingly easy to spend the day on the couch playing video games and browsing the Web. But that same technology can help us get fit, maintain a healthy outlook on life, and even improve the environment. Here are five ways technology is helping us lead healthier lives.
1) FITNESS APPS AND ACTIVITY TRACKERS
If you ever feel like you don’t have the time to exercise or can’t motivate yourself to get out of the house and go for a run, there’s an app for that. If you find exercise boring, you can check out Zombies, Run!, an app that encourages you to walk, jog, or run (away from zombies) around your neighborhood (where you can collect supplies to build your doomsday shelter). If you are lacking selfmotivation, apps like Nexercise can help convert your workouts into gift cards to stores like Home Depot, Sephora, and CVS Pharmacy.
A 2015 article in the Journal of Medical Internet Research concluded that app users were more likely to exercise than non-app users during downtime. App users in the study also had a lower body-mass index and were more likely to overcome common barriers to exercise like absence of self-motivation, lack of time to exercise, and an inability to enjoy exercise.
2) MENTAL-HEALTH APPS
We all worry more than we should, often about the most irrational and improbable things. Now, apps like Worry Watch can help us keep a mobile anxiety journal where we can log, track, and analyze our most-troubling thoughts. Actively analyzing our thoughts is a wonderful way to eliminate unnecessary and distressing worries. Other apps like Pala-linq help address substance abuse, and apps like 1DocWay provide telepsychiatry services to smartphone owners.
In its Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013–2020, the World Health Organization recommends providing comprehensive, integrated, and responsive mental health and social care in communitybased settings, through the use of electronic and mobile health technologies. Furthermore, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America says that mobile apps can be effective tools that make therapy more accessible, efficient, and portable for those with anxiety disorders, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other related disorders.
3) VIRTUAL REALITY
Psychiatrists and researchers are beginning to use virtual reality to offer exposure therapies. The virtual reality gear in these instances is used to simulate anxiety-producing situations. If someone is afraid of spiders, immersing them in a virtual reality room filled with spiders can be an effective mode of conducting exposure therapy, without exposing the patient to any risk of serious injury.
One experiment found that patients who underwent virtual reality treatment paired with traditional cognitive-behavioral therapy better recovered from flight anxiety than patients who engaged in only cognitive-behavioral therapy, and experts posit that virtual reality treatments in psychiatry will become more common as the technology becomes more affordable and accessible.
4) VIDEO GAMES
Programs like Lumosity are great for those of us who wish to strengthen our memory, perception, and attention. But researchers are on the brink of developing a more personalized and effective method of enhancing cognitive capabilities.
Dr. Adam Gazzaley, featured in this issue’s Q&A section, is working with Akili Interactive to create closed-loop video games — games that adjust their tasks and difficulty in real time, according to each patient’s performance. These games can be used to improve neural functioning and cognitive symptoms for everybody — from patients suffering from age- or disease-related cognitive deficits like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia to individuals looking to sharpen their attention or strengthen their memory.
5) ENVIRONMENTAL MONITORING
Environmentalists have taken to crowdsourcing and mobile technology to keep watch over their surroundings. Smart Citizen Kit, one of the most well-known groups leveraging the advent of crowdsourcing, is using crowdfunding to distribute kits that let users measure air composition, temperature, light intensity, sound levels, and humidity in their area, data which the users then easily upload to a central database.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency has also sponsored crowdsourced- and citizen-science-based programs. One program, with the help of the New Jersey Environmental Federation, used citizen scientists to analyze the pollutants from city trucks. This lead to the creation of an ordinance seeking to reduce people’s exposure to diesel exhaust and to reduce diesel emissions.
(This article is from the Spring 2017 issue of Brain World magazine .)