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Don't Be Blindsided! By Carol Colman
I am passionate about preventive health. I not only have co-written more than two dozen books about diet, fitness and anti-aging, with some of the world's top experts, but I practice what I preach. I watch my weight, don't smoke, exercise regularly, and live an all-around healthy lifestyle. I walk the talk.
So last year, at my annual physical I was stunned—absolutely floored—to learn that my blood pressure, which had always been in the spectacularly low range, had out of the blue shot up to the point that I now required medication. Although both my parents had high blood pressure, and my mother had suffered from a severe case of hypertension and a resulting series of strokes, my blood pressure had always been perfect, and I assumed it would stay that way.
Given the fact that I had made it well into my 50s without a problem, I was pretty sure I had beaten my high blood pressure gene into submission. It would never have occurred to me that I would ever need to be concerned about high blood pressure, let alone track my blood pressure on my own.
Missing the Warning Signs
After my diagnosis, I conducted my own post-mortem to try to understand how I had gone so quickly from a perfect specimen to a bona fide hypertensive. When I thought honestly about the past year, I realized that over the last few months my lifestyle had changed abruptly, only I had been too distracted to notice.
In addition to selling my home in the suburbs and moving into an apartment in the city (moving is as nerve wracking as it is cracked up to be), my husband had recently undergone surgery on his foot and leg that led to a potentially life-threatening staph infection, my brother had just become seriously ill, and I was in the process of completing two very challenging book projects.
I was spending more time sitting at my desk working, trying to catch up for time lost during the move. I was cooking less and carrying in more meals than usual, which meant that I had pretty much lost control over how much salt I was consuming daily (as it turns out, I am very salt sensitive). Add to that the fact that I was stressed out and not sleeping well, two known risk factors for a whole variety of medical problems, including high blood pressure.
Any one of these changes in my routine could have increased the risk for high blood pressure, especially for someone with my family history. The effect of all of them combined was toxic.
The Future is Now
Of course, my blood pressure didn't shoot up overnight. In all likelihood, it crept up slowly, edging up a few points here and there, working its way from optimal to normal to borderline high to bona fide high over weeks, if not months. If only I had been aware of what was happening, as it was happening, and not after the fact, I could have made positive changes to turn the situation around, when simple interventions might have done the trick.
I had been blindsided—caught completely off guard—by a diagnosis that in retrospect, I should have seen coming.
As luck would have it, I had just spent the last two years researching a book on the future of technology at the renowned MIT Media Lab, a tech incubator that prides itself on "inventing the future." While researching the book, I learned about innovative, easy-to-use devices being developed at the lab and elsewhere that enable people to monitor and manage their own health at home or at work, outside of a hospital or a doctor's office. These include "smart tools" such as tiny, wearable biosensors that monitor your activity levels throughout the day, tracking your active versus your "inactive" minutes, as well as how many steps you walk and how many calories that you burn every day.
There are easy to use wireless devices that can perform a hospital-quality sleep study right in your own home. There are smart phone apps that monitor the quality and quantity of what you eat simply by snapping a picture of what's on your plate. And there's a blood pressure cuff that not only reports your numbers to your smart phone, tablet or computer, but also allows you to share your results in real time on Facebook or with your doctor.
I assumed it would be at least a couple of years before these types of health care devices would find their way into people's homes. But when I checked up on some of the projects that I had been researching, I was amazed to see that many of these life-saving gadgets are available right now, and many others will be on the market shortly. Here's the clincher: you don't even have to look very hard to find them. They are being sold on Amazon, in Best Buy, in the Apple and android app stores, and even in Walgreens and Walmart. The problem was, I wasn't using a single one of them!
If I had been using just one of these health tracking devices, I would have been able to stay aware of the changes in my routine, even during times of acute stress, and intervened at the earliest moment when I was first running into problems. Within a day or two of wearing an activity tracker, I would have noticed that I was sitting too much, and would have taken steps to correct my behavior. If I had given myself a sleep study, I would have noticed how poorly I was sleeping, and would have taken notice of the impact that stress was having on my body. If I had recognized that in light of my risk factors, weekly checks of my blood pressure were in order, I might have been able to catch my burgeoning high blood pressure in time to bring it down without medication.
The bottom line is that I don't think I would have been blindsided.
Activity Tracking is for Everyone
I have become an avid self-tracker. I now wear a small, unobtrusive activity tracker on my clothing. Every day, I make sure that I am getting enough activity and burning enough calories. I now check my blood pressure regularly with a cuff that reports the information back to my smartphone. I can share the information with friends or my doctor.
I've not only learned a great deal about myself from tracking my activity, but I've noticed that it's had a profound change on my behavior. I no longer sit for hours on end, I stand whenever possible (like on a short subway ride.) I opt for the stairs instead of taking the escalator whenever I can, and go out of my way to walk extra blocks when I go shopping.
Tracking both my activity level and my blood pressure has helped me better connect-the-dots between my behavior and health. For example, I notice how when I complete a good work out, my blood pressure returns to the better-than-normal range it used to be in, which motivates me to keep going. And since I've been monitoring my blood pressure, I avoid salty meals because I don't want to face those inevitable bad numbers down the road.
I could have been doing all these good things for myself before I was wearing a tracker, but the fact is, like the majority of the population, I wasn't. My tracker is my invisible coach who steers me back in the right direction when I veer too far off course.
Now just imagine what would happen if everyone wore an activity tracker. What if everyone could manage their health not just when they're focused or thinking about it, or when they're in the doctor's office, but in real time, when they're going about the business of their everyday lives.
For example, if you were wearing an activity tracker, long before a "sudden" weight gain you would see that you were not burning as many calories as usual, and your activity level had fallen off. At the moment you spot the problem you can solve it, avoiding those extra pounds that are so hard to take off. Similarly, if you gave yourself an occasional at home sleep study, long before you noticed your powers of concentration had diminished, and your sex life was on the skids, you would see that you were not getting enough deep, restorative sleep that is so essential for mood and brain power. You could then take the necessary steps to improve your sleep quality, and thus avoid the myriad of problems associated with poor sleep.
My co-authors, Joe Kvedar, MD, and Justin Mager, MD, and I are launching Wellocracy and our online community, wellocracy.com, to connect people to these tools of empowerment that can transform their lives and their health.
These new technologies are both life changers and game changers. They are the missing link in "self-health," the 21st century upgrade that will enable tens of millions of people to feel well and stay well and stand a good chance of avoiding the lifestyle diseases that have become modern day epidemics.
Shine a Light on Your Blind Spots
The emergence of smart tools—activity monitors, body sensors, apps and at home health devices—marks the end of the "dark ages" when important, and potentially life-threatening changes in our health, took us by surprise. Today's personal health technology can capture the hidden moments that have eluded us in the past, shining a brilliant light on our blind spots, providing us with much greater insight about our behavior and how it impacts all aspects of our lives.
With these new and powerful smart tools, for the first time we have the ability to detect health problems at their point of origin, long before the first symptoms or signs of disease emerge. At the earliest sign of a problem, we can take the appropriate steps to nip it in the bud, or catch it early enough to be easily managed.
We already have the platform in place to usher in this new era of connected health, and the tools to carry it out are now in the palms of our hands, on our desks, in our pockets or pocketbooks. Our smart phones, computers, and tablets are more than just platforms to search, shop, game and socialize: when teamed up with the right devices and apps, they become our mobile health hubs that follow us wherever we go.
Every day that you're not monitoring your lifestyle is one less day that you could be getting healthier, happier, more fit, and better prepared for whatever challenges and opportunities come your way, tomorrow, next year, or in the next few years.
Stay in the Loop
The beauty of self-tracking is that if it's done right, you never veer so far off in the wrong direction that getting back feels like a challenge. You never lose touch with your life because you can easily check up on yourself anytime, from anywhere, from virtually any screen. If at any point during the day, you are falling short of your goals, you can make incremental changes in real time to get back on track.
This constant interaction between you and your data is what is known as a positive feedback loop, a method of self-regulation that enables each of us to maintain control over critical aspects of our lives. As you gain insight into yourself and your behavior, you can use this information to create your own customized program that is designed to blend into your life, not disrupt it.
Throughout this book and on wellocracy.com, we introduce you to simple strategies that will empower you to make consistent progress, correct missteps quickly, and stay aware and responsive to your own needs and health and wellness goals. We will teach you how to "listen" to your data or tracking information, so that you can engage in an ongoing dialogue with your body that sets you on the path to optimal health and mental well-being.
Everyone is Welcome
We do not favor any specific device, company or diet over another. We try to provide members with impartial advice on how to select their monitors, trackers and apps to best suit your individual needs and then offer strategies that can be employed with any brand. Unlike websites sponsored by manufacturers, ours is a site where members can come together, regardless of what brands or devices they may be using, or diets they may be following, to share their experiences and strategies.
From time to time, we may offer a device for sale on our website that we feel is consumer friendly and good value. This will also enable a group of members who are using the same device to work together.
But, we repeat, the advice in this book and on our website applies to any activity tracker. So chose the one that you feel best suits your needs and your budget.CHAPTER 2
Meet Your Future Self
Imagine that you've just downloaded an app with a magic window that lets you look into the future, and you can't resist taking a peek. You tap the "start" button, and a figure pops up on your screen. It's someone with a slim, strong, attractive body still worthy of a second look, walking, no practically sprinting, down the street. As you examine the figure more closely, you begin to recognize the face.
A little older, but not much worse for the wear. You're just glowing with vitality, and, if you must say so yourself, you're looking pretty great. By now, you're breathing a sigh of relief and grinning from ear-to-ear.
Your happiness is short-lived, however, because the image quickly disappears, and a new version of You appears on the screen. But this one looks nothing like the first You. This You is moving slowly—no, actually creeping along—in a flabbier, unfit, unsteady, unhealthy-looking body. The bounce is out of your step, the gleam is gone from your eyes. This You is nothing to smile about.
By now you're in a cold sweat, the stark reality of your potential future brought to you in glorious, full-color 8-mega-pixel detail. You begin to frantically tap the "turn-the-page-back" icon as you yell at the screen, "What happened? Get me back to that other me. I hate this me! I'll stop eating junk! I'll take off the weight! I'll get more exercise! I'll start going to sleep at a decent hour! Just tell me, what I have to do to get back to that better me!"
At that moment, you mean every word you say because the image of Old-and- Sick You scares the daylights out of I'll-Worry-About-it Tomorrow You. For the first time, you finally understand your power over Future You.
The reality is that most of us have difficulty connecting our present with our future.
We move so quickly through our busy days that we miss the thousands of individual acts and decisions that can profoundly influence our present and future life. Even if we knowingly do something that is unhealthy or even harmful—we cheat on sleep, we gorge on processed food, or we don't get our daily quota of activity—we often fail to associate our actions with later outcomes. Social scientists who study how and why people make decisions tell us that the human brain has difficulty grasping abstract notions. It's a throwback to the days when our primitive brain—the one that responded to imminent danger—was essential for our survival. If we don't feel an immediate impact from our actions (touch fire—get burned; annoy saber tooth tiger—get eaten; go out without clothes in the winter—freeze to death), we have difficulty making the connection between present actions and our future selves.
Stealth Health Threats
Unlike in the days of our prehistoric ancestors, our major health threats are often not obvious as they are happening. They typically creep up on us slowly, doing their damage quietly and insidiously long before they're even detected.
You'd have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the burgeoning epidemic of "lifestyle-related" ailments—illnesses that are caused almost entirely by our own making. Experts agree that between 30-50% of all chronic illnesses, like Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and even many types of common cancers, is entirely preventable—or even reversible—through better diet, more exercise, stress relief and other simple lifestyle interventions.
Type 2 diabetes is a great example of a new epidemic that is almost always directly related to lifestyle, and that can almost always be prevented and reversed if caught early enough. And yet, tens of millions of people are suffering with this disease, and if present trends continue, tens of millions more will be joining them.
Excerpted from Wellocracy: Move to a Great Body by Joseph C. Kvedar, Carol Colman, Justin Mager. Copyright © 2012 Wellocracy LLC. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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