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Track heart health, skin conditions and vitamin D all with your phone

New technology makes it easy to monitor aspects of wellness without much effort

SHARE Track heart health, skin conditions and vitamin D all with your phone
New Apple Watch Series 7 models are shown on a screen in La Habra, Calif.

New Apple Watch Series 7 models are shown on a screen in La Habra, Calif., as they are introduced during a virtual event held to announce new Apple products Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021.

Jae C. Hong, Associated Press

With some of us feeling like we’re starting to come out of COVID-19 hibernation, our health may need a bit of attention. An American Psychological Association survey from last year revealed 61% of adults reported they had undesired weight changes since the start of the pandemic. Nearly half of parents said stress levels went up as well.

Tracking blood pressure and heart rate

Because of these factors, there’s a possibility your blood pressure has been rising during the pandemic. The American Heart Association reports nearly half of U.S. adults have hypertension or high blood pressure. And while Dr. Patrick Ellinor, director of the Cardia Arrhythmia Service at Massachusetts General Hospital, told the APA that people should check their heart rate occasionally, they shouldn’t obsess over it.

“It’s important to know there is a wide range of normal,” he said.

A normal heart rate at rest is generally between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Dr. Tracy Stevens, a Missouri cardiologist, told the APA people should check their heart rate every month to know what is normal for them.

If you want to make it easy, you can download an app.

The Heart Analyzer app uses an Apple Watch to measure heart rate and then displays charts and metrics on your iPhone. The information also includes heart rate recovery and blood oxygen saturation with privacy as a focus. The app promises no data ever leaves your device.

For those without an Apple Watch, the Instant Heart Rate app only needs your phone’s camera to measure heart rate. It uses something called photoplethysmography; the process of detecting changes in blood volume just below the skin. You place your index finger on the phone’s camera lens for a reading. The app developer, Azumio partnered with the University of California, San Francisco for a large study on heart disease; the company claims the app’s accuracy is comparable to using a traditional ECG heart rate monitor strap.

Your phone can also help identify skin conditions in the near future. Every year, Google sees nearly 10 billion searches related to skin, nail and hair issues. In May, the company announced something to help people better know if that rash is a common ailment or something that necessitates a visit to a health care provider. Google’s artificial intelligence-powered tool is a web-based application where you can upload photos of your skin, nail or hair condition. It will also ask you questions to hone in on the issue and give possible matching conditions. You’ll then see information about them and answers to frequently asked questions.

According to Google’s Health blog, the tool “supports hundreds of conditions, including more than 80% of the conditions seen in clinics.” The company hopes to launch the tool later this year.

Tracking and measuring vitamin D intake

And those winter months are coming when many of us won’t see the sun as much, which means our vitamin D intake could suffer. Vitamin D helps with calcium absorption, getting fewer muscle cramps and prevents rickets. Recommended daily vitamin D intake for most adults is 15 micrograms or 600 international units, according to the National Institutes of Health, but most of us are unlikely to keep track. Few foods naturally contain vitamin D and most people in the world get some vitamin D through sunlight.

Of course too much exposure to UV radiation isn’t good either. The NIH explains UV exposure is the most preventable cause of skin cancer. We all need to be wearing sunscreen. But even with typically applied sunscreen amounts, the NIH says the skin probably synthesizes some vitamin D.

If you’re looking for an easy way to measure vitamin D exposure, look to the D Minder Pro app. It lets you set a target of how much vitamin D you’d like to get. Then it tracks the sun, taking into account location and weather and lets you know when you’ve reached the goal amount. The app can also tell you when to get out of the sun to prevent sunburn.

Sometimes a specialized app can be more helpful than a general web search to find out more about a health concern. And technology is getting more and more advanced to assist in goals you may have for a healthier life. We might as well take advantage.