March 01, 2015

MAC USER: To Your Health

Victoria L. Herring

The theme of this issue of GPSolo is health care, and thinking about the topic from the viewpoint of a Mac computer and iOS device user, I will focus here on health care and medicine as they might positively affect our lives and, as a result, make us betters lawyers and people. Plus, I’m writing this just after the new year, and we all know about making resolutions to become healthier, don’t we?

There are whole websites, books, and seminars providing health care resources. So this column will only be able to scratch the surface, but perhaps it will serve as a resource for people wishing to research ways to improve their health—or that of others. I did a little looking myself, as my 2015 started with a desire to cook better and smarter, exercise, and generally improve my health. I’m aging, and I’d like to age gracefully.

One excellent resource for technological information relevant to Macs or iOS devices (and other platforms as well) is the online magazine/website MakeUseOf (makeuseof.com). Searching there on health and related topics, I found articles collecting links to a number of websites providing diets, workouts, exercise regimes, and other resources. For instance, “How to Work Out Without Going to the Gym” (tinyurl.com/kqz28vd) shows examples of websites focused on personalized exercise programs in your own home. Another recent article, “10 Websites to Help You Stick to Your 2015 Resolutions” (tinyurl.com/k3hauzk), contains a wealth of diet and fitness-related links. So, for a start, go to MakeUseOf and do a search for whatever it is you need; you’ll be sure to find something (with links to follow up on) for whatever device or OS you are on. And in addition to the articles, don’t forget to check the comments, which often have helpful links as well.

Focusing my research on more Mac/iOS-centric resources, I uncovered many apps that would be useful in the quest to improve one’s health. As I went along compiling the information, I decided to jettison the entire topic of iOS apps dealing with health and wellness issues, as it is just too huge a topic to cover here. Most people know about the Fitbit and other trackers, and some are waiting for the Apple Watch with its HealthKit application (about which, see tinyurl.com/qcdykwe). But I will leave the discussion of using small devices to monitor, track, and educate about health and wellness to the “Road Warrior” column. This “Mac User” column will focus on Mac computer applications and access to websites that might be of assistance, although I will mention some iOS resources as needed, particularly as many of the Mac computer programs have companion iOS apps that can be found on the iTunes Store (apple.com) or the developer’s parent website. I will call the reader’s attention, however, to the May 2013 issue of Mac|Life magazine (maclife.com) as well as several articles on MakeUseOf (tinyurl.com/nnarkon, tinyurl.com/mpx7bc9, and tinyurl.com/ksvx3hj) that discuss health-related iOS resources.

Visiting the App Store

First, for those with Macs, a trip to the Mac App Store (now helpfully reachable by going to the little Apple in the upper left-hand corner of your computer’s display, moving down the list to App Store, and clicking) can be an overwhelming experience. However, the Mac App Store is organized by categories, and you can find what you want by going to the Health & Fitness, Lifestyle, Sports, or Medical categories and starting there. Or you can insert a search term such as “health,” “exercise,” “workout,” “diet,” “recipe,” etc. and find all sorts of apps for each of these topics.

These categories also can be found in the Top Charts areas if you are looking for popular, crowd-sourced applications. Mac apps are collected into groups of Top Paid, Top Free, and Top Grossing, which might be one way to cut through the clutter of a store with close to 500,000 items to choose from. (A helpful article from MacWorld gives tips on how to find the needle in the App Store haystack: tinyurl.com/ljcctcd.)

The same breadth and searching methodology is also true of the iTunes App Store, which focuses on iPhone and iPad apps. In both cases you can select the Health & Fitness, Lifestyle, or Medical category to find health-related applications. If you’re away from your Mac (or Windows computer) and want to find iTunes apps on the web, you can start at apple.com/itunes/charts/free-apps and explore.

iTunes can be overwhelming, but its search function is exceptionally powerful and can provide a variety of ways of gaining information. I opened it on my laptop and selected the iTunes Store (not just Music or other subparts) and put the word “workout” in the search box. It came up with many results categorized by areas: Albums (mostly music to work out by), Songs (likewise), Music Videos, iPhone Apps, iPad Apps, TV Seasons and TV Episodes, Podcasts and Podcast Episodes, Books and Audiobooks, Movies, Collections, iTunes U Episodes, and Courses and iTunes U Materials. Be sure to hit “See All” if you like a certain method of imparting knowledge as the front page is only a sampling. Then you can play whatever it is you find on your computer (or iOS device) and move toward better health.

I want to focus particularly on two sources of information on health-related issues that are freely available on iTunes but rarely searched for such purposes: Podcasts and iTunes U.

Podcasts are free, easily downloaded, frequently updated, and dedicated to a host of topics—serious, comedic, and informative. Podcasts are great to listen to as you walk, drive, or exercise. Clicking on the iTunes Essentials: Podcasts link took me to podcasts on the general topics of Running and Yoga, as well as others. And going into the Podcast area of Running I found all sorts of podcasts, including some on how best to do it and providing workout music as well. In addition to the Essentials collection, in the Podcast area there are the Health and Science & Medicine categories. Clicking on these links will take you to a plethora of podcasts related to these topics.

iTunes U is another area of iTunes that I search when I’m pulling together resources. The list of topics covered in iTunes U and its providers is extensive. Again, by narrowing your focus to topics of health, science, medicine, wellness, nutrition, and the like, you can find courses from reputable colleges and universities dealing with these topics. For instance, under the category of Health & Medicine is the topic of Food & Nutrition; one course provided by the University of California deals with “Diet and Nutrition,” and another by Cornell University has sessions on “Health and Nutrition.” There are courses on baking, meditation, cycling, and health-related topics.

A quick look at the iTunes Store’s book (and audiobook) holdings also reveals some books on the topics of diet, eating, food, stress, and the like. So, just by going to iTunes on your Mac (or PC using the Windows version of iTunes), you can find all sorts of resources to access on the topics of health and wellness.

As I looked into particular sites or apps that could be used or accessed on a Mac, I found several that particularly intrigued me and that I thought might be helpful for lawyers. After all, we can only take care of clients and others if we take care of ourselves. I’ve broken out some of the topics below; there are plenty more, but this should give you a sense of what is out there.

Meditation, Concentration, Sleep, and Mental Wellness

White Noise Lite offers a collection of images and sounds to help you fall asleep: thunderstorm, rain, beach waves, crickets, cat purring, etc. It’s quite an assortment and can be accessed with ads (free) or without ($4.99). In addition to the Mac version, there is also an iPhone/iPad version. For those on other platforms, there are other versions at the website (tmsoft.com/white-noise). Similar apps include Sleep Pillow, which is free and also has versions for your iPhone or iPad (clearskyapps.com), and Relax Melodies (including variants such as Relax Melodies Oriental and Relax Melodies Seasons; ipnossoft.com), which is also free but has a paid-upgradable option, as well as iPhone or iPad versions. This set of apps uses musical instruments and their sounds in addition to nature sounds to provide a calming background.

If you’re looking for something to force you to stop and smell the roses as you sit scrunched in your chair at the desk, reading and writing or searching on the computer, there’s an app called Time Out (dejal.com/timeout) that is easily configurable and dims your screen and forces you to take micro-breaks (to catch your breath, un-tense, and change your eyes’ focus) and regular breaks from computing. The program is free, but it is donationware, so you should make a donation if you find it useful.

Another app for the Mac that will remind you to sit back, stand up, and move is Water Break (ilifetouch.com/home.php, also listed in the App Store under Health & Fitness); it lets you schedule a reminder to take a water break, which you also can use as a reminder to stand up, stretch, and move around. It cost me 99 cents—pretty close to free—and there’s also an iPhone and iPad app. The developer’s website lists a number of other simple apps for Macs and iOS devices that can help with many of your daily tasks beyond remembering to drink water and take stretch breaks.

An interesting app available free for the Mac (as well as other platforms and as a browser extension) is Optimism (findingoptimism.com; also on the App Store), which bills itself as a “self-tracking applications, designed to help you increase your understanding of all the things that affect your mental health.” Once you learn the patterns of your life, you can then address them. The website has screenshots and information for how best to use the app and benefit from that use. For instance, when you start the app, there are a number of questions to fill out: how many hours you slept, how long you exercised, your feelings, and the “stay well strategies” you have employed during the day. You enter data each day and make notes, and at the end of a period you can chart the results and know more about what works for you (or doesn’t) and how to address issues facing you.

As part of my research, I visited with Joy Schiller, director of the Wellness Center at Des Moines University (dmu.edu/wellness-center), about websites and other resources having to do with health and wellness. She and the Wellness Center provided me with a long list of websites on the topic, and I’ll provide just a few of them here:

  • Fitness Blender (fitnessblender.com): full-length, at-home workouts
  • Self NutritionData (nutritiondata.com): complete nutritional information—including a calorie counter—for any food or recipe, helping you select foods that best match your dietary needs
  • SparkPeople (sparkpeople.com): recipes, exercises, and all sorts of assistance
  • TheWalkingSite (thewalkingsite.com): hiking and walking as exercise

The list goes on and on. (For a more generous serving of helpful websites, see the list under "Wellness Websites," below.) You can find loads of additional resources by using the search engine on your Mac or by contacting your local university or extension service.

Working Out and Exercising

For those looking for Mac apps focused on assisting with exercising, there are a number in the Health & Fitness area of the App Store. First I went to this category and looked for free apps to give me a sense of what might be available. While there were not all that many, there were enough to start learning how to do better, focused exercises. For instance, Daily Ab Workout FREE provides you with a video of ten basic exercises, each about 30 seconds long, for a total of five minutes (or you can select a workout length of 7.5 or ten minutes) focusing on various exercises that improve your abs. Once you set up your Mac and play these videos, your exercise is timed and different options are provided. If you like this free introduction of these video demonstrations, the Daily Workout Apps developers have other (paid) options for you, including workouts for various body parts and yoga. Similarly, there are a number of other applications that will provide you at least a starter, after which you can buy other types of workouts. One of these on the App Store for the Mac is Personal Workout, which provides free workouts and in-app purchases. For instance, what is your goal? Lose weight? Keep fit? Tone muscles? Select the goal and the app will suggest exercise routines for you and show you how they are best done. If you can’t go to the gym or hire a personal trainer but are dedicated enough to task yourself with exercise routines, this is a good app to get.

Tracking Apps

Using apps to track your progress on a Mac mainly involves finding relevant websites and registering, logging in, and making sure your device/tracker will send in data to the site. (See “Road Warrior” for an overview of tracking devices by Fitbit and Jawbone.) There are loads of tracker apps to track exercise, steps, sleep, how much or fast you run or cycle, and many other types of endeavors. Most are geared to your iOS device, but many also provide you with website access via your Mac. And because you pay your taxes, the federal government at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website provides you with a free method for keeping track of your health and finding information to improve it: SuperTracker (supertracker.usda.gov/default.aspx).

Wellness Websites

Calorie Counters/Weight Management Resources

Nutrition Resources

Recipe Resources

At-Home Workouts

Hiking, Walking, and Biking Trails

Walking/Running Programs

Alcohol/Narcotics-Free Resources

Tobacco-Free Resources

Other Resources

List compiled with assistance of the Des Moines University Wellness Center (dmu.edu/wellness-center).

 

An Apple a Day

This topic might seem narrow, but once you lose yourself on the Mac App Store, you will be swallowed up in it. And, as noted above, for most Mac apps there is a corresponding iOS application and website. So, try out the free apps, talk to knowledgeable people who can suggest helpful sites and apps, and be patient testing each one. The main point of using technology to improve your health and well-being is to make it consistent, productive, and easy to do (and to remember to do). Technology is a tool we can use to reach the goal of an improved life and law practice.

Victoria L. Herring

Victoria L. Herring practices in Des Moines, Iowa, in an office that has used only Apple/Macs since the early 1980s.