Am I Alive? : 3 iPhone Apps I Use to Make Sure I Am

“First, let’s make sure that you have a heart and lungs.”

That’s a joke I use in the emergency department when I ask patients to sit forward so I can listen to their chest with my stethoscope.

If the patient laughs, I know one of the following is true:

  • They have a sense of humor.
  • They have dementia.
  • They thought I said something else.
  • I make them uncomfortable.

In any case, the response yields useful information.

I’m still looking for the patient who is missing these vital organs and is able to talk to me. I’m thinking I could get an academic paper out of that.

Am I Alive?

I’m a healthy guy. 175 pounds. 6 feet 1 inch. I’ve got a smokin’ hot wife. I’ve got two confident young daughters. I love my work. Life is good.

I want to live a really long time. I want to be healthy. However, health doesn’t just happen: It’s a habit I need to nurture purposefully.

I’ve found three applications that help me track how I am doing on my path toward health. They provide me a real-time awareness that helps me stick to the goals I have made. They help me minimize the variability of behavior that can prevent me from achieving goals.

3 Apps to Stay Alive

1. Fitbit

Fitbit is a little clip that I attach to my clothes and use with their iPhone/online application. It monitors the number of steps I take and how long I sleep. I take at least 10,000 steps and sleep at least seven hours each day. If I don’t, I lose health.

The easiest way for me to get to 10,000 steps is to run 30 minutes each day. The easiest way for me to get sleep is to lie in bed and close my eyes.Fitbit

Tony Schwartz wrote a good post about the effects of aerobic activity and sleep on our ability to improve sustainable performance. Most of us just get through our days. I want to own the day. I want to feel alive.

Fitbit also estimates the number of calories that I burn as I go about my stepping and sleeping life. It can tell when I am exercising vigorously, like when I am running my daily 50K, and it can tell how well I sleep during a long meeting. I could keep track of the number of calories I eat in the application’s food diary, but I’m pretty simple when it comes to estimating my calorie intake. The more I eat, the more I need to step, or the more I weigh.

Fitbit is easy to use. I clip it to my shirt or my pants and it does its thing. Its battery is iPhone like; it’s not removable and it comes with a charger. It only takes about 15 minutes for a full charge. It uploads my data via wifi when I am close to the charger attached to my computer.

The application, available on your iPhone and online, is elegant and quite usable. It allows you analyze your data with William Tufte-like depth. There is a community of knowledge at the site and it has built-in social networking so you can share data with friends.

Fitbit costs $100. I think it is worth it.

2. Don’t Break the Chain

I’ve used Don’t Break the Chain for a couple years. It is a very simple online site and iPhone application that keeps track of whether “you did” or “you didn’t.” I have found it very helpful in reinforcing and reminding me to accomplish new goals.

I currently have three goals that it keeps track of:

  • Write 1 hour each day.
  • Take 10,000 steps each day.
  • Meditate 20 minutes each day.

As I do each daily activity I go to the Don’t Break the Chain calendar to check it off. It tells me how many days in a row I’ve “been getting things done.” The goal is to have long strings of days of accomplished goals. It creates a pretty subtle and yet potent psychological pressure to keep me healthy.

It’s free.

I’d been wearing my tuxedo T-shirt for six days straight.

Don't Break The Chain!

3. Equanimity

Equanimity is a meditation timer for the iPhone. Meditation is no longer just for hippies and worshippers (though it’s fine if you are): It’s for those who want a healthy mind. The data are pretty clear that meditation is good for you. You should see my cerebral cortex. You know how you have a six-pack abdomen? Well, you should take a look at my frontal lobe. It’s toned. Meditation is the abdominal crunch of the mind.

Meditation works, whether you are agnostically counting breaths or concentrating on structured religious ritual. It improves your ability to handle stress, your self-esteem, and your ability to concentrate. It also improves metacognition: your ability to think about thinking.

Equanimity - Meditation TimerYou can set Equanimity to variable times. It keeps a log of each sitting, and its interface is unobtrusively refined. It has a calendar that tracks the hours and frequency of meditation that encourages daily practice. This encourages me to sit.

Equanimity is $4.99.


Creating healthy goals and sticking to them is getting easier. Key causes of failure in achieving goals are variability of practice and a lack of feedback about goal-oriented activities. The latest technologies are highly portable and easy to use. They improve our awareness of the effects of our daily activity on our health. They have the potential to help us feel alive. First, heal thyself, doctor; then suggest the same applications to heal your patients.

Things You Can Do Now:

1. Read about wearable computers and the cool things that people are doing with them at Quantified Self. The site discusses self-tracking and the knowledge that can be gained through personal data, such as data about sleep, exercise, work, and mood.

2. Create one healthy goal and use one of the above apps to help you attain your goal.

3. Share with the readers of this blog the applications you are using either for yourself or for your patients.