Integrating mental and physical wellness: update on activity trackers and wellness counseling

Two recent articles report of how activity trackers are evolving to make them more useful. And a third article, from JAMA, advises phyicians to routinely include assessing the activity level of their patients, and provided counseling about the benefits of healthy activity.

Stop Counting 10,000 Septs: Check Your Personal Activity Intelligence,” was published by the Wall Street Journal on 1-20-16 (the WSJ has superb coverage of technology, science and health, totally separate from their political and business reporting).  The article explains the source of the common daily activity goal of 10,000 steps (an outdated and methodologically flawed study), and the evolving thinking about betters goals, especially tracking heart rate.  It reviews newer versions of trackers that do a better job of tracking more than just steps, and a new device, the Mio PAI, which collect more diverse and personalized data than the “old” trackers, and converts it into an “easy-to-understand number” that that is used to track progress in a more comprehensive manner.  It uses a logarithm based on a highly regarded Norwegian study that found a correlation between cardio activity and lifespan.

The WSJ also published “Fitness Trackers: Four Models That Are Fitter Than Ever,” on 1-21-16, which reviews upgraded versions of popular devices and one new device. The article concludes, “he apps that work with these trackers have gotten better, too, not only charting your data but letting you know how, say, the number of hours you’ve slept correlates to your progress toward your fitness goals—data that can be a real motivator to get yourself off your couch when a streak of laziness strikes.”

The JAMA article comes to our attention courtesy of the prolific mental health posting service provided by Ken Pope, Ph.D.  JAMA published “Making Physical Activity Counseling a Priority in Clinical Practice: The Time for Action Is Now,” in the December, 2015 issue.  This article briefly reviews the emerging, and increasingly strong, research support for the benefits of a healthy activity level.  The recommended “dose” and “frequency” of activity is quite a bit higher than what the average American is doing.  This article recommends that physicians add assessing activity to their routine “vital signs” questions.  The authors acknowledge the challenges that physicians face when trying to motivate many patients to be more active, and recommends referring to community support resources – but unfortunately does not include health care psychologists and other mental health professionals as possible resources.

For mental health professionals interested in helping their patients/clients with physical wellness, which is likely to help with overall wellbeing, these articles provide a helpful update about both the limitations  of activity trackers and the ways that they are being enhanced to make them more useful. The JAMA article provides, with just a little bit of extrapolation, support for mental health professionals to routinely provide activity assessment and counseling for their patients/clients.  It also, once again with just a little bit of extrapolation, could be used to support expanding the practice of mental health services by reaching out to physicians to offer therapy for patients who are experience behaviors to improving their health, such as lack of motivation, distorted thinking and poor self-care habits. 

 

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