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July 10, 2015

Wearable technology: good or bad for our health?  

Wearable tech 72 dpiPersonal tech devices have become so closely intertwined with our day-to-day lives that it’s nearly impossible to imagine a time when the only gadget people carried was a watch.

Devices that promise to help us become healthier and enable us to obsessively monitor our current state of health are especially popular. If you’re not convinced, you need look no further than Fitbit’s recent initial public offering (IPO). After going public in mid-June, the company, which sells wearable fitness tracking devices, swiftly raised $732 million and is now valued at $4.1 billion, proving the appeal of wearable activity trackers extends far beyond hard-core health and fitness junkies (apparently, even President Barack Obama is a Fitbit fan).

Forget casually going for a stroll to get some fresh air or getting a good night’s rest – these days, we’re armed with devices that track exactly how many steps we’re logging every day and the precise amount of shut-eye we’re getting.

Activity trackers aren’t the only gadgets that are changing our behaviour and impacting our health. Smartphones, tablets and multi-tasking watches each affect us in different ways too.

This begs the question: is all this technology good or bad for our health? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer isn’t black or white. To gain a better understanding, let’s look at the pros and cons:

Pros

  • Some personal technology, like wearable activity trackers or fitness apps, encourage healthier habits and can inspire you to become more active, helping to change behaviour for the better.
  • Technology that allows you to set goals may make you feel more accountable for your health on a day-to-day basis.
  • Personal tech devices help track things like calories burned and calories ingested, making it easier to adhere to a weight loss plan.
  • Some health apps can assist in disease management – for instance, apps that collect blood pressure results by syncing wirelessly with a blood pressure monitor.

Cons

  • Some argue that being hyper-vigilant about every aspect of our daily activity and obsessively tracking and monitoring various metrics induces anxiety.
  • Technology that tracks activity and calories burned may not be completely accurate.
  • Personal technology has been linked to sleep issues. One study found that reading from a light-emitting device such as an e-reader before bedtime can shift the body’s natural clock and delay the onset of sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 95 percent of people engage in some form of screen-based technology close to bedtime at least a few times a week.

The bottom line

Whether personal tech devices are used in a way that is beneficial or harmful to our health ultimately depends on the user. Used properly, there are numerous advantages, whether it’s a health app that can assist you in managing a chronic condition or devices that can help you achieve your weight loss or fitness goals. The key, as with most things, may be to use devices in moderation and remember to shut down our gadgets so that we can properly shut down, which is crucial to maintaining our own optimal health.