05/31/2013 11:45 EDT | Updated 07/31/2013 05:12 EDT

The Danger of Fitness Apps


Is it possible for technology to make us too fit?

Mobile Apps such as Jawbone Up and Fitbit are allowing us to track our sleeping patterns, food intake and exercise patterns. This is giving us the opportunity to become healthier AND push our bodies to new limits. The problem is, are we pushing too far? Healthy people are pushing their bodies to new limits where even professional athletes in their prime are suffering injuries ranging from pulled muscles to cardiac arrest. Most of us weekend warriors take on personal challenges with the aid of new technology but how do we track and evaluate our health levels before pushing ourselves to these new heights?

It sounds almost too good to be true -- a device that you can wear on your wrist which will track your exercise, steps, calories, mood, and even sleep patterns, allowing you to optimize the time you spend in each activity during the day. Up by Jawbone promises to "deliver insights that keep you moving forward" while Fitbit "sends push notifications when you're nearing your goals and when you've achieved them." But while both of these devices and others like them are useful tools in helping to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle, for those prone to extreme exercise, or those who have not exercised regularly for an extended period of time, they can also become a means to push their bodies beyond their capabilities, causing real harm and even resulting in death.

While the technology is new and undoubtedly useful, there is still an inherent risk in putting your health in the hands of a software developer, no matter how much research and information has gone into the making of the product. With that in mind, here are some tips on how to incorporate a fitness app safely into your life.

1. Do not skip your yearly check-ups with your family physician. It is important for your physician to know what kind of diet and exercise regime you are using in order to help diagnose any problems that can crop up. Issues like anemia (ladies), dehydration, exhaustion, and body stress from over-exercise are not something that an app can help you with.

2. Do not self-diagnose physical problems that you may encounter on your fitness journey. Muscle cramping, chest pains, dizziness, and anything beyond the typical ache after a good workout should be checked by a physician.

3. Consult a qualified personal trainer before you embark on any kind of regular exercise regime in order to set realistic fitness goals that are specifically geared towards you. Inputting your data into an app is not a reliable method of creating a healthy regime of exercise and fitness.

4. An app is not a registered dietician. While it may be tempting to log every bite and calorie, an app is not going to be able to access whether you are eating a balanced diet and getting all of the nutrients you need during your weight loss.

5. Do not use an app to diagnose your own sleep problems. While it is handy to know how much you are sleeping and how deeply, the problems underlying insomnia or sleep apnea can be serious and must be diagnosed by a medical professional.

6. Listen to your body above all else. Pushing yourself to over-exercise because you have not met an arbitrary daily goal is dangerous. Intense exercise for more than an hour or two can stretch, tear and scar the heart and cause rhythm abnormalities, according to American cardiologists and keen runners James O'Keefe and Carl Lavie.

7. Do not let the app take over your life. The danger in having something that can track every step, every calorie, and every wink of sleep is that it can feed compulsive behaviours. Extreme exercise and exercise bulimia are serious issues, as are eating disorders. If you have a history of any of these, a fitness app may not be for you. If you are spending more time interacting with your app than with your friends and family, you may have a problem.

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