Birgit Bauer turns to digital health tools to help manage her multiple sclerosis and regain physical fitness.
I became slightly lazy once the autumn months started. That's not very healthy! My walking abilities were becoming more limited. I felt stiffer in my joints and muscles as I didn't have as much motivation to do sports or go outside regularly.
One reason for the lack of exercise was working from home. During the main bout of the COVID-19 pandemic and even now, many of us needed/need to be at our desks to work and attend meetings. Sitting at our desks for so long is unhealthy for us. Sometimes, I feel stuck at my desk without a chance to leave. I didn't take enough care of myself in the past, but I've tried to change that.
I realised this need to care for myself after a particularly long meeting. I felt really exhausted, sick, and tired. It was clear I had to change things. It was time to go back to regular walks, ask the doctor for advice, and talk to other people with multiple sclerosis (MS) who were experiencing similar issues.
As I researched, I thought digital health tools could be an option. I looked online to find what could work best for me. I found that my best choice combined online and offline support.
Before I go into the details, I want to say that this combination is excellent. I really love it.
Using my smartphone to train my brain
First, I went onto my smartphone and installed a new app to train my brain again. My old one had become boring because no further updates were available.
My new app is not a "classic" cognitive training app. Instead, it teaches you a new language. This is a much more fun way to train your brain, as it brings more variety. I also knit, which helps with my cognitive functions. My smartphone calendar updates me regularly and reminds me to do these activities.
Another app helps me to meditate and calm down. It's easy to go out into nature with my earphones, listen to the programme, and start to relax. It's great to be outside and combine the virtual with real life.
Brain training solved some problems like exhaustion and tiredness. My nights are now full of sleep, and my mood is great again.
But there was a problem with walking. In the summer, it was easy. I have my electric bike, and I would go hiking and swimming. However, the public pool is closed in the autumn, and hiking is only good on sunny days.
Gyms can be overly crowded. I have my cross-trainer, but I find it boring. Yes, it's a way to exercise, but I need something to motivate me to stay active.
"I need something like a personal trainer. A person to tell me to walk and burn more calories," I told my husband during one of my "lazier" periods. Around this time, I learned more about digital health and refreshed my knowledge. Connected health is something I was really interested in, and looking for motivation was my prompt to do more research.
Finding the right digital health device for me
Connected health has a lot of definitions. Simply put, connected health means using electronic devices to help people manage their daily activity level and even monitor some health indicators such as sleep, heartbeat, and oxygen intake.
Some gadgets, such as smartwatches or sensors in clothes, can also help collect data about a condition, like tracking symptoms. Connected health allows doctors and patients to examine their care in a meaningful and feasible way.
When choosing a digital health device, it is essential to choose CE-certified (EU) or FDA-approved (USA), as this means the device has been approved by the proper authorities. Smartwatches often allow the wearer to collect diverse health data. In special cases, these watches could do more, but every function needs to be approved. Therefore, not every feature on a smartwatch is available on all devices in every country.
Connecting with my smartwatch
My decision was made. I bought a smartwatch. The first few days felt unusual, but my smartwatch and I soon became a team.
My smartwatch has sensors that will vibrate when communicating with me. For example, it will vibrate when I need to stand up and move around. It is also connected to my email account and some social media accounts. There are a lot of alerts going on, and it acts as my multifunctional assistant. Although it felt almost "too much" at first, it now helps me use my time more meaningfully.
My smartwatch reminds me to regularly take a deep breath, stand up, and walk around. It invites me to partake in little challenges every day and asks me if I feel good.
The watch has been with me since October, and I am delighted with my new personal trainer. It motivates me in the morning, letting me know what went well the day before and what I could improve. It suggests I change my daily exercise challenges and burn more calories while tracking my progress.
I learned much more about myself. Over the weeks, I started to walk at least two kilometres daily. My walking speed grew faster, and my stiffness reduced. I now have less pain to manage, and the walks help to refresh my mind. This also allows me to deal with upcoming fatigue.
My smartwatch also has an emergency function in case I have an accident. If there's an emergency, I can ask for help via a button. Or, if I don't react to the alerts my watch sends out, it calls the emergency services for me.
Connected health helps you discover more about yourself and will soon become even more prevalent in our healthcare. We will have more digital devices to make our lives more comfortable.
The benefits are clear; many people managing conditions already use digital health devices and symptom trackers. The collected data gives a better picture of the patient's day-to-day life and may allow doctors to make decisions that lead to better care.
Digital and connected health help me make changes in my life that keep me in better shape. My husband is also more motivated. He sees my progress and knows how to help me with this small - but very clever -device on my arm.
Of course, smartwatches can't replace a therapist or doctor, and they mustn't ever be used in place of proper medical care. If you are considering a new exercise and diet regimen, please consult your healthcare team before making any changes to your lifestyle.
Still, using digital devices helped turn my life around when I needed it the most. I can't recommend this health technology enough.
What are your experiences with digital health? Would you consider getting a smartwatch?
NPS-IE-NP-00710 May 2023