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An app a day

Health  and fitness  apps

the useful, the wacky,  and  everything else in between. YESTERDAY, I  was told by a diet and exercise tracker website that I  was eating too little calories.

“Based on your total calories consumed for today, you are eating too few calories. Not only is it difficult to receive adequate nutrition at these calorie levels. but you could also be putting your body into starvation mode,” the verdict read. “Starvation mode lowers your metabolism and makes weight loss more difficult. We suggest increasing your calorie consumption to 1,200 calories per day, minimum.”

If you are wondering if I’m doing it on purpose. I’m not. The site arrived at the conclusion because I  was diligently entering what I ate into an application (app) linked to the website on my mobile phone even though I didn’t have much time to eat. And that’s how easy it is.

The calorie counts might not be entirely accurate. After all. the information is mostly provided by those who use the app, and the values are estimations. at best. But before smartphones (phones like Blackberries, iPhones, PDAs and Android phones that can do more than call and text) existed. the only way I  could do this. without the help of a professional. was to go through a very thick book of published  calories. And I  might actually need a calculator .

 These days you don’t even have to remember how to calculate your BMI (body mass index).  There’s an app to help you do that,” says Dr Alan Teh, a

Dr Teh:  You can even write programmes to calculate doses of chemotherapy for cancer patients and estimate the time a pregnancy is due.
Dr Teh:  You can even write programmes to calculate doses of chemotherapy for cancer patients and estimate the time a pregnancy is due.

consultant haematologist who writes similar applications for his PDA to help him with complex calculations.

With some programming know-how. not many calculations are out of reach. And as Or Teh scrolled down his considerable list. he grinned. “You can even write programmes to calculate doses of chemotherapy for cancer patients and estimate the time a pregnancy is due,” he says. Drugs. diseases and all things health When it comes to health-related apps. there are apps that cater more for the needs of healthcare professionals. and apps that are more relevant to the rest of us.

A doctor who has a patient on multiple drugs. for instance. can check whether his patient’s drugs can interact negatively with each other on his smartphone.  All he needs to do is enter drug names into a drug and diagnosis reference website app like MIMS. Medscape or Epocrates Rx. So, whenever a doctor or pharmacist today encounters a particularly well Google-educated patient, they can always whip up their first line of defence: their smartphones.

“The ability to access medical journals for the latest studies is also a plus. especially when you are on the go,” Dr Teh adds. That obviously would appeal more to people interested in the details of the healthcare industry, like Dr Teh and student occupational therapist Teoh Jou Yin (who uses the Mendeley app on her iPhone to read and archive medical journals). For the rest of us who occasionally need to look up information about our symptoms. an Internet browser on our phones will do.

Dr Nora ... Applications like mine are not substitute for medical advice. They serve as Guide.
Dr Nora … Applications like mine are not substitute for medical advice. They serve as Guide.

But finding Information at our fingertips would sound dated If we knew what apps can do tor us now. As a friend or mine said when I  brought up the subject. “You can even chase away mosquitoes with your phone I” It would be great It It worked. but It sounded  like a cool Idea. (Read Out of this world for more of these cool Ideas.)

Tracking progress

One of the best things apps can do when it comes to your health is they can help you track important events and numbers that can contribute to your well being. And if the sudden interest from tech enthusiasts of the local Mobilefest group were any indication, these are pretty useful apps. (Before that. they had drifted off as Dr Teh explained apps for medical professionals.) Besides helping you add the calories you eat. it can also help you track your weight, energy consumption, menstrual cycle, sleep cycle, and even labour contractions (yes, if you are having those)!

Galvin Cheng, for instance. uses applications on his iPhone to track his daily calorie intake and obtain the latest information on supplements and workouts. “The strength (of using a phone to monitor my health) is mobility. While working out. I can view the instructional videos. which is like having a personal trainer with me in the phone: writes the 31-year-old marketing and events executive In an email.

Chng also finds It convenient, as he does not need to guess the amount of calories he Is taking. ·1 Just need to key In the tood I  eat. and the app wtn let me know the calories: The only llmltat!ons he finds Is the short battery lifespan of the phone and the occasional Inconvenience of canytng a phone around wtten working out at a gym. canytng a phone around is inconvenient, especially wtten you are working out in the gym on a treadmill,” he explains. Figuring out wttere to leave your phone wtten you clock in your treadmill miles may become a problem.

Mobile  instructions

To help her patients track and plan their vaccinations. consultant obstetrician & gynaecologist Datuk Dr Nor Ashil<in MoKhtar (Dr Nora) has come up with an application of her own. “It’s called the iTraveUab app,: says Dr Nora, Who designed  the application for the iPhone and iPad with the help of an application programmer based in the UK. I  can see why she is excited about the app. With it, you can Keep track of your vaccinations, learn about the recommended vaccinations for various destinations when you are travelling, and receive information about common travellers· diseases.

On top of that, the app can also tell you when the protective effects from your previous vaccination are about to wear off. That means if you’Ve had a nu Jab today, the app will let you Know a year later that you need another Jab (because the Jabs generally protect you for about a year). “One of the things my patients always ask me Is When was my last Jab?”‘ notes Or Nora. ·wen. this app can help you remember,” she adds.

Besides vaccinations. there are also apps that show you how to exercise (Yoga poses, abdominal workouts, even kegel exercises), look good (make up, beauty tips), reel good (massages. meditation. hypnosis and relaxing music) and overcome unhealthy habits (like smoking). If taking multiple medications at the right lime is a problem. there are also medication reminder apps to help you.

Also, for those moments when your specialist launches into medical “Greek” speak, apps like Taber’s Medical Dictionary can help you translate. You still need to go to your doctor to get your diagnosis and jabs, though. “Applications like mine is not a substitute for medical advice,” says Dr Nora. “It serves as a guide.” Dr Ten puts it simply, “If you think an app is going to give you a diagnosis, think again. You need to go through years of medical school to do that. Even then, you don’t get it right all the time.”

snare  and care

While they may not be a substitute for medical care. apps can certainly help healthcare professionals provide better care for us – as long as they Know how to access the information we store. There are apps to store Important medical Information (IIKe travel history or blood type). monitor your heart rate. and even your mental health Uust tell a health diary about your mood every day and see how you tare at the end or tne month).

Runners and cyclists may find other tracking apps useful, as they can track thelrroutes, the calories burnt when they are at It, and better still, share the results with the rest or the world on FacebooK, Twitter and other social media sites. Foodies can rate restaurants and recommend them to anyone who has the application installed on their phones. and tell them exactly where the place is with the GPS (global positioning systems) installed on their phones.

Apple may be right by saying: “There is an app for everything”. because the universe is literally the limit. Although there’s no telling how accurate these mobile phone apps are (the US$1.99 [RM6[ you pay for most apps may not cover research costs to verify any of the claims). they can serve as useful guides.

Like any device, a smartpnone Is often only as smart as Its user. Health applications that are downloaded on it are no different.

 The Star Newspaper, Sunday  April 24, 2011

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