Using Tracker Apps to Stay Healthy with RA
I have a confession: I’m not a model patient. I never drink enough water, frequently forget to take my bedtime meds, don't apply my acne cream regularly, sleep with my contacts in for no other reason than sheer laziness and rarely practice as much mindfulness and meditation as I recommend to others. Last month, while I was struggling to recover from the flu, I knew that I needed to refocus on these simple healthy habits to improve my overall health and better manage my RA symptoms.
At first, I tried simply setting reminders on my phone for all of these tasks, but quickly found that it cluttered my Google Calendar with easily dismissible alerts. What I really needed was help tracking these goals in a more meaningful way. After downloading at least 10 different apps in the span of a few days, I quickly whittled it down to three free apps that I’m still using today.
It probably sounds silly to download an app that’s sole purpose is to remind you to drink water, but I’ve found it really helpful. You can personalize it to your own goals (rather than a standard eight glasses per day), and customize how many times a day you receive alerts. Initially, I set it to alert me every two hours, but I’ve slowly adjusted it to every four. This helps me stay on tracking with hydration, but also reminds me to take a break from what I’m doing before refocusing on the task at hand.
Aqualert offers facts on how drinking water benefits the body and provides long-term milestones to work toward. For example, meeting your daily water goal for 30 days improves the appearance of skin.
This effort to jumpstart a slew of healthy habits left me feeling even more frazzled than usual. Instead of conceding that maybe I was trying to do too much too soon after a fairly major health setback, I focused instead on finding balance in other areas of my life. Enter the Calm app. Like most meditation and mindfulness apps, in order to access the full program you must pay a monthly subscription fee of $9.99, but I find its basic offerings very helpful.
I started with the “7 Days of Calm” program as a reintroduction to meditation. From there I added a 30-minute Body Scan to my nightly bedtime routine to reconnect with my body at the end of each day and take stock of any new, persisting or increased pain. I also set a midday reminder to practice 10 minutes of mindfulness during the work day. I set this to coincide with taking my meds and drinking water as a means of staving off the dreaded afternoon crash.
On nights I really didn’t feel like meditating, I took advantage of the Scenes feature that provides ambient noise for relaxation. Listening to the “Rain on Leaves” scene has proved particularly comforting during my last few infusion treatments.
Rewire was the big winner for me. It enables you to track different habits by checking them in the app daily. Over time, it creates a graph to illustrate your progress. I used it to meet my water goal, take my bedtime pills, use my acne cream nightly, drink a daily green smoothie and hit the gym three days a week – which was easy to set on a Monday, Wednesday, and Friday schedule.
There are three options for logging your habits each day: “done,” “fail” and “skip” (with the option to enter a note, too). I love the “skip” option! The reality of RA is that there are going to be days when I can’t go to the gym or I’m too nauseous to even drink water. Being able to skip those days rather than “fail” them maintained my successful progress in the app and allowed me the flexibility that a chronic illness demands.
Rewire starts the day with a motivational quote and reminds you to check your progress each night. That nightly ritual forces me to be accountable to myself and to examine any obstacles I encountered in achieving my goals.
I’m on month two of using these apps, and, while I know that this sort of meticulous logging isn’t for everyone, it’s helped me to be a lot more thoughtful about my health on a daily basis. Being able to enter notes in Rewire helps me understand how my RA symptoms and pain levels effects these behaviors in a way that I find more helpful than apps meant specifically for doing so. Going forward the long-term goal is to make these behaviors so ingrained that I don’t need any more reminders at all!
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_Anna is a Social Ambassador for the RA Health Central community and resident bionic woman. She writes the successful blog Six Hips and Counting where she chronicles the reality of living with multiple hip replacements before her 30th birthday. _