We (almost) have the technology to make you leaner, stronger, fitter…

Back in the 70s, Colonel Steve Austin was the Six Million Dollar Man…a NASA astronaut nearly killed during a test flight.

But, luckily for him, NASA had the technology to rebuild him…better than he was before..better..stronger..faster

And luckily for all of us, we are pretty close to having the technology to help make us leaner..stronger..fitter…and healthier.

Thanks to researchers at St. Louis University, we may soon have access to smartphone applications that will help us transform our bodies from fat to fit.

And I am not talking about first generation apps that tell you the number of calories in a Big Mac or produce a generic computer generated workout.

CADA interface
CADA interface

I am talking about software that is being used currently on a group of elderly Chinese diabetic patients (not necessarily the most tech-savvy group on the planet).

This new technology uses interactive smartphone games and various logging features to help the elderly diabetics manage their health and learn more about their condition.

Initial studies of the interactive diabetes self-management system, called the Chinese Aged Diabetic Assistant (CADA), are promising, researchers found. The system enables diabetics to track their blood glucose, weight, diet, exercise, mood and blood pressure – valuable information that will assist their doctors in providing the best care possible.

“This project did not start out as a gaming project, but we did a lot of groundwork – from looking at the health care infrastructure in China to conducting focus groups with older diabetics and interviewing various providers – and found that gaming was a persuasive way to engage patients in managing their personal health.”

The games vary in purpose. For example, researchers created a “food pyramid” type game, which encourages gamers to eat a balanced diet, limit high-sugar foods and watch their daily intake of fat and salt.

Applications including a trivia game and a tile matching game, in which gamers connect the necessary components for a healthy lifestyle, were popular educational choices among the test group.

While games engage and motivate the patients, smartphones makes the technology convenient.

First, smartphones are mobile, meaning patients can use them at any time or any place. They can be used as small, inexpensive computers even if no network infrastructure is in place. If connections are in place, smartphones make it easy for patients to share health information with their providers, care givers and others within personal network. Also, because many users are already mobile phone owners, including some smartphone users, adapting the technology is feasible for patients, providers and hospitals.

Smartphone technology may even offer a solution to better managing health care costs for chronic conditions, says Mark Gaynor, Ph.D., associate professor of public health at the School of Public Health.

The only way to cut the cost of caring for people with chronic conditions is to enable the patients to self manage their health. In order to do that, though, self-management must be reasonable and easy to do. Smart phone technology makes it easy for patients to track important health information.”

So what about us non-diabetics?

There are almost endless opportunities for using smartphone technology in health care, researchers say.”Imagine walking into a McDonalds and having your cell phone recognize your location and make healthy menu recommendations – all this and more is possible with smartphone technology.” (why do they always use McDonalds as the restaurant example?)

Researchers say smartphones can make tracking one’s health easier and more convenient. In the future, CADA users will be able to share information with their providers and receive important health reminders. They are also working on Bluetooth-enabled devices, such as a scale that communicates with the phone to record and track daily measurements and a blood sugar monitor that automatically records daily readings on the phone.

And while it’s true that this technology doesn’t have the pizzazz of a pair of bionic legs, I think that its potential to integrate healthier behaviors into our day to day lives is powerful stuff.

True, it took an explosion in global obesity levels to get peoples attention, but finally, there is growing public awareness that we can and should take better care of our bodies.

And, if tools like the CADA smartphone make it easier to get fit, then maybe, just maybe, we aren’t doomed to a future where we evolve into this…



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  • CADA project website

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