Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Overkill in techno-aids for 'Mens Sana in Corpore Sano'

None of us would argue with the 'sound mind in a sound body' injunction from Juvenal’s Latin satires (~100 AD), a goal that can be accomplished by diligent pursuit of a few simple activities. Two NYTimes articles note how modern technology manages, for a profit, to vastly encumber that pursuit.

With regard to 'sound mind,' Gelles notes:
The other morning, I woke up and brewed a cup of Mindful Lotus tea ($6 for 20 bags). On the subway, I loaded the Headspace app on my iPhone and followed a guided mindfulness exercise ($13 a month for premium content). Later in the day, I dropped by Mndfl, a meditation studio in Greenwich Village ($20 for a 30-minute class)...There are more than two dozen mindfulness apps for smartphones, some offering $400 lifetime subscriptions. The Great Courses has two mindfulness packages, each with a couple of dozen DVDs for $250. For an enterprising contemplative, it’s never been easier to make a buck...On a recent trip to Whole Foods, near the kombucha, I came across a new product from the health food maker Earth Balance: a dairy-free mayonnaise substitute called Mindful Mayo ($4.50 a jar). Then, in line, I picked up a copy of Mindful magazine ($6)....With so many mindful goods and services for sale, it can be easy to forget that mindfulness is a quality of being, not a piece of merchandise
...with so many cashing in on the meditation craze, it’s hard not to wonder whether something essential is being lost...Increasingly, mindfulness is being packaged as a one-minute reprieve, an interlude between checking Instagram and starting the next episode of “House of Cards.” One company proclaims it has found the “minimum effective dose” of meditation that will change your life. On Amazon, you can pick up “One-Minute Mindfulness: 50 Simple Ways to Find Peace, Clarity, and New Possibilities in a Stressed-Out World.” Dubious courses promise to help people “master mindfulness” in a few weeks.
More often than not, however, the people I know who take time to meditate — carefully observing thoughts, emotions and sensations — are sincere in their aspirations to become less stressed, more accepting and at least a little happier.
Hutchinson discusses the greater than billion dollar market for body fitness aids (which are not used by more than half their buyers six months after their purchase) suggesting:
...a more fundamental question about our rapid adoption of wearable fitness tech: Is the data we collect with these devices actually useful?...Last September, in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, Australian researchers published a review of studies that compared subjective and objective measures of “athlete well-being” during training. The objective measures included state-of-the-art monitoring of heart rate, blood, hormones and more; the subjective measure boiled down to asking the athletes how they felt. The results were striking: The researchers found that as the athletes worked out, their own perception registered changes in training stress with “superior sensitivity and consistency” to the high tech measures...running with a GPS watch “slackens the bond between perception and action.” In other words, when you’re running, instead of speeding up or slowing down based on immediate and intuitive feedback from your body and environment, you’re inserting an unwieldy extra cognitive step that relies on checking your device as you go.
On the positive side:
Health researchers also want to use your tracked data to figure out what works in the real world to improve health and fitness, rather than testing theories in the artificial conditions of the lab. An analysis of in-the-wild data from 4.2 million MyFitnessPal users, for example, recently yielded unexpected insights into the habits of successful weight-losers compared with unsuccessful ones: They ate nearly a third more fiber, and 11 percent less meat. And the dietary changes the successful dieters made between 2014 and 2015 bucked broader trends: They consumed more grains, cereal and raw fruit, but fewer eggs.
As prosaic as it sounds, this is the greatest promise of the wearables revolution. Once the novelty of tracking your exercise habits wears off, knowing how many steps you took today or what your resting heart rate was yesterday soon loses its interest. But together, 100 million of us wearing wristbands could uncover some truly valuable insights into what works to make us healthier and fitter.
Perhaps the most effective and simple way to increase aerobic fitness: use a jump rope!

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