Beware of that health app

Choosing technology today to improve your health is the equivalent of the Wild West of the 1860s, some say.

Then, it was fraudulent snake oil salesmen. Today: Over-promising, non-scientific health apps.

With over 165,000 health-related apps in the Apple Store alone, researchers haven’t been able to evaluate every single one. Instead, here are three things they say you should keep in mind about fitness trackers and health apps.

  1. Be careful of the one-size-fits-all recommendation. Someone who is not physically fit may over-exert themselves trying to reach the often-recommended 10,000-step milestone. For the average person, 10,000 steps is about five miles, and they should be taken throughout the day instead of in one exercise session. Instead of these blanket recommendations, talk to your doctor to get personal exercise advice.
  2. Don’t rely solely on these devices or apps. Don’t expect that if you follow every recommendation, you’ll get the result you desire — especially if it’s not backed up by research or supported by other healthy life choices.
  3. Be especially wary of apps that give advice for medication. General advice for exercise, standing, breathing, or diet is one thing, but advice on specific medications should only be given by your doctor.

Doctors worry that these days, when people are always staring at their phones, the added health app could make things even worse. Relying too much on the advice of health apps could lead to even more anxiety about one’s condition and could even cause medical harm with over-diagnoses.

So be wary of health apps — take their recommendations with a grain of salt. Some have sound advice, backed by medical research. But others are just there to make money. Keep these three tips in mind to make sure your app is working for you, not the other way around.

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