Heart Health at Your Fingertips

Smart phones put heart health at your fingertips

Thanks to smart phone technology and tablets, support for managing your heart health may truly be at your fingertips. Whether you are counting calories, logging exercise, assessing your heart risk factors, or even trying to quit smoking, there are many health and fitness applications and mobile-friendly websites that can help you record and succeed in making lifestyle modifications to improve your heart health.


Nicole Meyer, an exercise physiologist in UW Health's preventive cardiology program, works with patients who have had heart attacks, open heart surgery and who are managing other heart risk factors including weight management, smoking and diabetes.


She says, "Apps can be a great tool to help people make the lifestyle adjustments they need to make to improve their health." But she cautions, "They aren't going to do the work for you. Apps can be used successfully for tracking and recording information as well as for providing feedback and guidance. Progress is recorded and displayed, making it easy to share and discuss with your health care provider."


She adds, "For some people, the habit of using the app will help reinforce the lifestyle habit as well, but you still need to have the commitment to do the work."


Some User-Friendly Apps


Some user-friendly apps and websites that Meyer's patients have used include My Fitness Pal (myfitnesspal.com), which provides a searchable food database and a free and easy way to track meals, and Map My Walk (mapmywalk.com), which enables you to use the built-in GPS of your mobile device to record duration, distance, pace, speed, elevation, calories burned, and route traveled on an interactive map.


Patient Linda Piefer had great success incorporating app technology into her preventive cardiology program. After having four stents placed to open her arteries, Piefer, 68, knew she needed to lose weight through diet and exercise. Her nutritionist suggested My Fitness Pal, which helped Linda track food, exercise and weight loss. She lost sixty pounds!


She says, "I couldn't believe how much it helped me – I was amazed."


With the application and website, she was able to track her food intake and log her exercise. She says, "Before, I didn't do well tracking, but I work on a computer all day, so I found this to be a very easy way to get and stay on track."


She appreciated the fact that she could share results with her nutritionist and with Meyer, and receive feedback and encouragement from them. She adds, "I had a lot of weight to lose and I liked that the app adjusted my daily nutritional recommendations as I lost."


Other apps and mobile friendly websites include the American Heart Association's Heart 360 (heart360.org), which helps track the factors that affect your heart health - including blood pressure, physical activity, cholesterol, glucose, weight and medications, and The ASCVD Risk Estimator (cardiosource.org), available as a companion tool to the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association Cardiovascular Risk Guidelines. The app uses personal data and measurements to estimate a patient's 10-year and lifetime risk for heart attack and stroke.


Meyer says, "The saying 'there's an app for that' really is true when it comes to health and wellness. You can find an app for smoking cessation, mindfulness and meditation as well as for blood pressure or glucose monitoring."


Simplicity is Key


Meyer suggests finding something that is easy and quick to use. She says, "Simplicity is the key – you don't necessarily need all the bells and whistles." She recommends trying a free app first, which is usually a "lighter" version of the app. Then you will know if you like it and can invest in the full version if necessary.


She adds, "Using apps can benefit anyone who has the accessibility, skill and interest in using the technology. Apps often allow you to share progress with friends and family and can help build a great support system."


Ultimately, finding an app that's right for you may go a long way in supporting your heart health, but it does not replace your doctor's advice or care. If you find an app you would like to use, let your health care provider know too. The apps and mobile-friendly websites noted here are provided as resources and examples only, and referencing them does not imply endorsement of the site or product.