Killer Apps for Health & Wellbeing
Click through my personal favourite apps for promoting health and happiness to see if any resonate with you too:
These are great to do when you have 1 or 10 minutes to focus on your breath, to turn off the stress response and turn on the relaxation response. The app I use has a reminder that notifies me to take a few minutes for myself mid-afternoon. I find that it recharges my battery at a time when I might otherwise want a coffee!
Mindfulness Breathing is a free app that includes the exercise that I try to do in the middle of my workday - alternate nostril breathing (ANB). Based on ancient yoga breathing techniques, newer evidence suggests that altering nasal airflow can influence brain activity, with improved cognitive function caused by unilateral forced nostril breathing. (Doesn't it sound complicated? I can't stand trying to do this practice without the soothing voice from this genius app guiding me, even though it's actually as simple as the woman in the picture above.) The effects of ANB include increasing heart rate variability (a marker of stress resilience and a calm and relaxed state), improving performance in a task which requires perceptual sensitivity and focused attention, and improving cardiac and respiratory functions in healthy young adults leading a stressful lifestyle.
Breath Ball Breathing Exercise I love the visual of the ball expanding and contracting as you inhale and exhale. In the free option, you can choose from a few programs of different breathing rhythms for deep relaxation, calming down, or coping with high stress events.
Pranayama A free app that allows you to customize the length of your inhale and your exhale, and if you want to retain the breath in between. Also has visuals to help you get into it.
Yoga Nidra is a free app that's great to do before sleep, or anytime you're able to take 10-30 minutes to lie down and get out of your head and focus on different parts of your body. Once you've done this a few times guided, you'll be able to do it on your own. If you do it with your phone before sleep, aim to put your phone on Airplane mode and set it down across the room from your bed.
Headspace offers a free trial period, after which is $7.50 CAD/month. My favourite is the FOCUS meditation, which is easy to do on your own once you've taken in the guided version a few times.
Smiling Mind is a free app that has options that are fun to do with your kids.
Insight Timer another free app that has thousands of guided meditations from 1 minute to 60 minutes in length.
Calm is a wonderful free app with breathing exercises, meditations, and even bedtime stories for promoting restful sleep.
ReWi If I could have only one app on my phone, this would be it. It even includes a few guided meditation options! I find it easy, fun, and so satisfying. It allows you to track, and even upload pictures associated with, activities that have been shown to promote well-being; along with meditation, sleep, exercise, goal setting, gratitude, kindness, social connection, and savoring.
Beautiful Mood mood tracking and journaling app that uses fun graphics you can customize to get a sense of how your activities affect your mood.
ATE - a brilliant patient of mine shared this with me, and I love the concept: mindful food journaling. This free app allows you to upload photos of your food to track what you ate, why you ate, and how it made you feel. You can add friends to keep you accountable in this non-judgemental space.
Yummly - Browse recipes by ingredients to make the most of what you already have at home and avoid food waste. Also great for finding recipes that exclude foods you're avoiding if you've done food antibody testing.
Cronometer - I've linked the free Individual app here, but I use the Health Pro version of this app to track macronutrients (like fiber and protein) and micronutrients (like specific amino acids, vitamins, minerals, saturated fats vs omega 3 fatty acids) in the Diet Diaries my patients share with me.
Menstrual cycle TRACKING Apps:
Ok, this is important. A 2020 study of cycle tracking apps for the iPhone reviewed 140 apps for accuracy, evidence based suggestions and other qualities. "A total of 31 of 140 apps (22.1%) received an App Quality Score of zero because of overwhelming inaccuracies of content (8 apps), tools (21 apps), or both (2 apps)."
I was really pleased with these results, because the FREE app I've been recommending for all 17 years I've been practicing, Fertility Friend, ranked in the Top 3! Graphing your basal body temperature, the app delineates clearly when you've ovulated. It allows you to input how heavy your menstrual flow is, along with secondary symptoms like cramping or breast tenderness throughout the month. I've found this very helpful for tracking patients' treatment progress with women's health concerns & goals.
Also in the Top 3 were Glow Period Tracker, but read the ratings before installing (I noticed negative reviews calling out too many ads, and a "toxic community"), and
Clue Health and Period Tracker, which also scored high in app quality, but is $39.99/year after a free 7 day trial.
NATURE LOVIN APPs
If you're my patient, you know that I prescribe time in nature based on this 2019 study that revealed spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. I've included a couple of apps below to help connect us to and savour the natural world.
Picture This: the most accurate plant identifier I've come across, but it's a paid subscription. The app identifies leaf plants, flowers, vegetables, fruits, weeds, trees, and most importantly, toxic plants. You can also get your plants' problems diagnosed and solved by experts!
Seek is free, and along with identifying what you've taken a photo of, this app can tell you all of the species nearby; plants, fungi, amphibians, reptiles, fish, arachnids, birds, insects, mollusks and mammals!
Smart Bird ID: finally, a Shazam for birdsongs! You can also ID birds by uploading photos. The free app also tells you what bird species are nearby, and has paid options to unlock more features.