On the Right Track

For people who want to make positive lifestyle changes, incorporating healthy living in today's convenient, fast-paced, junk-food world can be a tremendous challenge. But while modern society hasn't always made it any easier to eat right and exercise, the latest technologies have made it easier for people to track their progress toward good health.

Thanks to the latest measurement technologies, people who want to monitor their health, fitness and daily physical activity now can do so more quickly, effectively and conveniently than they could even a few years ago. Today, many key health-monitoring products are available in versions specifically designed for easy use in the home.

Blood Pressure Monitors
One of the key indicators of wellness is a healthy blood pressure. About one in three American adults has high blood pressure, or hypertension, a medical condition in which constricted blood vessels make it difficult for blood to flow, forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood through the narrowed arteries. Over time, high blood pressure is likely to result in damage to the heart and blood vessels, increasing the risk of stroke, heart attack and kidney failure.

Today's health-monitoring technologies help people gauge their progress toward greater health and fitness without requiring much time, expense or relying solely on prescription drugs.

Often called a "silent killer," hypertension usually produces no physical symptoms until it's at a life-threatening stage. Luckily, its progression can be easily diagnosed and tracked using a blood pressure monitor. Traditional blood pressure monitors could often be difficult for people to use in the home, since they were hard to inflate to the proper level and required the help of a second person with a stethoscope to determine the systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The latest blood pressure monitors are designed for easy use without assistance, and are available in versions that use an arm cuff and in more portable designs that read blood pressure at the wrist, making it easy to measure this key benchmark for good health. In fact, new guidelines issued by the American Heart Association (AHA), strongly support home blood pressure monitoring, as it may be the best way to gauge daily readings. Proper cuff size is also encouraged by the AHA for accurate measurements, due to the continued rise in obesity.

When shopping for an arm blood pressure monitor, it's important to find one that can be used quickly and accurately. The monitor should have a pre-formed arm tube for easy application without assistance, and the cuff should be flexible enough to accommodate both standard arms and those of adults suffering from obesity. Overweight people have a very high risk of high blood pressure and other health problems, so it is crucial for them to monitor their blood pressure regularly.

Ease of use is important to encourage regular blood pressure monitoring. One-touch operation and automatic inflation and deflation to the optimum level are features that enable hassle-free operation. Shoppers also should look for the ability to store readings with dates and times. This helps physicians survey the progress of patients' blood pressure results by looking at their history of self-monitoring.

For users who need a highly portable solution, a wrist blood pressure monitor is often the best bet. A crucial component is positioning sensor technology that starts the measurement only when the wrist is at heart level, since this positioning is necessary for accurate readings with a wrist monitor.

Ear Thermometers
Health monitoring technology can be critical during times of sickness. A temperature of more than 100 degrees is a sign of an infection or illness that requires medical attention. Therefore, it's important to monitor temperature when symptoms of illness appear. The fastest, safest way to take a temperature is by using an ear thermometer, which can give an accurate reading within a few seconds.

When shopping for an ear thermometer, look for one that takes a high number of temperature scans each second, since a higher number reflects greater accuracy. The thermometer should also offer an easy-to-use design for readings with just a few clicks of a button. Finally, the ear thermometer should feature memory recall so that temperature readings can be stored to offer a record of temperature changes during times of illness that can be shown to your physician.

Many of the illnesses that afflict people today may have been prevented through positive lifestyle choices. But less than one-third of adults in America get the 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week recommended for optimum health. A pedometer is a useful tool that can help people measure whether they are getting enough day-to-day activity and it also can help people monitor their workouts when they begin a fitness plan.

Differentiating features of a quality pedometer include the ability to measure aerobic steps, (defined as more than 60 steps a minute and 10 minutes of continuous walking), as well as total steps to gauge how much daily activity is aerobic in nature. Since aerobic exercise is important to cardiovascular health and weight loss, it is important to be able to track how much of your movement is actually done at sufficient intensity to be considered aerobic. In addition to aerobic steps and total steps, a pedometer also should be able to measure calories burned and total distance covered.

Most pedometers can only be worn on the waist, but a newer model offers greater convenience. A model designed with sensing technology allowing it to be worn in a jacket, pants pocket, or even in a bag is more likely to be used regularly. A pedometer with a memory function that lets users monitor activity levels over several days is beneficial to give a better overall picture of users' routine exercise levels in day-to-day living.

Fat Loss Monitors
Due in part to the sedentary lifestyle of many Americans, obesity is America's fastest-growing health concern, with nearly two out of three Americans classified as overweight or obese. In fighting obesity, measuring weight alone doesn't give a true picture of health when gauging the success of a weight-loss plan. Weight loss does not always equal fat loss. Body composition, or percentage of body fat, is a more accurate way to determine fitness. A proper weight loss plan will ensure that fat is lost, not muscle mass. For example, body fat percentage of more than 20 percent for men in their 20s and 30s or 33 percent for women in 20s and 30s is an indication that the person is over-fat.

Today's fat loss monitors using bioelectrical impedance technology, which sends a weak electric current through the body to determine the amount of fat tissue, can provide fast and accurate body composition measurements in the comfort of home. Since it is necessary to input personal information into any fat loss monitor before getting a reading, the ability to save this information into the machine as a personal profile is important for simple operation since it prevents users from having to answer a series of questions each time they use the device. A monitor with settings for both inactive people and athletes takes into account activity levels to offer a more accurate reading. Portability is another key feature. Some of today's fat loss monitors are lightweight handheld devices that are easy to carry and store and offer the added convenience of a reading within seconds.

Today's health-monitoring technologies help people gauge their progress toward greater health and fitness without requiring much time, expense or relying solely on prescription drugs. And the best part? You can use these products at home. With a low initial investment, these products offer people tools for success in the adoption of a healthy lifestyle that can pay huge dividends in health care savings -- and in quality of life.

This article originally appeared in the March 2005 issue of HME Business.

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