Weight loss and well-being apps – do they help?

As Christmas shopping deadlines get closer, devices and apps that track food intake, exercise frequency and duration, as well as sleep cycles and stress, will be advertised as an important aid to living a healthier lifestyle. But is it a wise investment – can tech help us achieve our health and well -being goals?

Those of us who already have such devices are probably putting them away until the new year when the country seems to go on a loose weight/get fitter/ feel better/fit in those jeans resolution. And others may be trying on their new watches and wrist bands, and scanning their newly downloaded apps for advice and data clues to help them power into the new year.

But will it help?

Apps and devices are of course, easier to use than a paper and pencil record of food intake or exercise, but they also require discipline and motivation and a liking for being organised and and a willingness to be totally honest with yourself. Apps that track exercise are on the whole easy to use as well, but are irrelevant if the individual wearing the activity tracking device is nit actually moving or has left the thing at home when they hit the gym. Suggestions on changing behavior to reduce emotional overeating or decrease portion size are sensible and may work, if followed. Users can benefit from these Apps because they are able to improve the nutritional quality of what is eaten, or motivate exercise because the App gives instant praise when physical activity occurs. But are Apps able to motivate the disinterested or discouraged dieter? Are there Apps that entice users who stop tracking food consumption or refuse to exercise to begin again? Are there Apps that really understand why we eat too much? Maybe the next generation of such devices will accomplish this. Or maybe not.

We asked our practitioner ambassadors for their views.

Adam Mufti Physiotherapist commented :

Apps can be an excellent way to keep yourself motivated and keep yourself on track with exercise. Apps which incorporate programmes such as the couch to 5K can help pacing, build endurance and get people into running while keeping achievable goals.
Other apps can show you good technique for exercises in the gym, and others, such as strava, can be a great social platform to share activities with friends and family and keep you motivated.

Susan Burry Dietitian comments:

Dietary apps can be helpful for some people in the short term, they can help people know if they are eating the correct macronutrients and portion sizes. dietitians can help with this process by giving guidance on how to meet the clients targets. But important not to use in the long term, just enough to get you on track!

And finally Catherine Steele Psychologist added to the summaries:

Diet and wellbeing apps are a great way to track your progress against set goals and the notifications can be really helpful in keeping us motivated. But.. they do need to be carefully managed to make sure they are supporting us not creating more pressure!

For example the need to regularly enter data such as food and drink can become another task on top of our already unnamable to list so think about how you can best make it work for you. Be careful not to check in too often and become don’t obsessed with the device. If you miss a day or two of tracking it will be ok!

The Scientific Relationship Between Menopause and Pain

This interesting article from  Psychology  Today  highlighting  just why  perimenopause and menopause  can bring increased pain.

“For women, the continual variation of hormonal levels through puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and pre-and post-menopause contribute to this discrepancy in pain between the sexes. For instance, prior to puberty, there are no significant differences in the development of painful conditions between boys and girls. Afterward, the differences are dramatic, with women two to six times more likely to develop chronic pain conditions, such as headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, and fibromyalgia. There are also differences in pain levels and frequency after menopause.

The Menopausal Transition and Pain

Pain intensity tends to increase when estrogen levels are low and progesterone levels are high, as they tend to be during the second half of the menstrual cycle, possibly because there are more naturally occurring “feel good” chemicals in the brain when estrogen levels are high. You can imagine the evolutionary benefit of this: estrogen levels are highest during pregnancy and childbirth, thus providing some natural pain relief. Indeed, during pregnancy, when levels remain high and steady, studies indicate many pain conditions improve and pain sensitivity is lower.

Surprisingly, there is little research on the effects of the pre-menopause transition, called perimenopause, and menopause on pain severity and frequency. But we are beginning to learn.

The Different in Pain Before and After Menopause

One study of 101 women seen in a menopause clinic in Italy, all of whom had some form of chronic pain (headaches, fibromyalgia, arthritis, back, or abdominal pain), found that about 18 percent said their pain started after menopause; about 17 percent said it stopped after menopause; the rest said their pain that had begun prior to menopause continued after the transition. As might be expected with age, arthritic pain started or got worse after menopause in half the women.

Back Pain as it Relates to Menopause

Indeed, musculoskeletal pain, such as arthritis and back pain, have some connection to hormonal levels, with evidence showing that estrogen can affect the cartilage and fluid around the joints. This could explain why women tend to have more severe knee arthritis after menopause than men of a similar age. An analysis of seven studies also found a much greater prevalence of back pain during the perimenopausal period than either before or after menopause.

The Menopauses Effect on Pain

Another interesting finding is that women with high-intensity, high-frequency pain reported that their pain improved or remained stable after menopause, while those with low-intensity and less extended pain said it got worse. The authors of this study concluded that “menopause can act as a determinant in the evolution of painful conditions.” Translation: your pain may get better or worse after menopause, depending on its cause and severity. “

An interesting read showing that the menopause is a complex  transition that is sadly under researched.

We asked three of our expert practitioners for their  views on this issue and how a holistic approach to pain management can help.

Catherine Steele – Psychologist commented:

“We know that pain is connected to inflammation in the body. As a psychologist I work with clients on the mind body connection and we know that how we feel emotionally has a huge impact on how we experience pain. For example when we are stressed or anxious pain is experienced more acutely. Hormones also have an impact on how we feel and they impact our emotions so it can become a bit of a circle.
From a holistic perspective working with our emotions and focusing on relaxation techniques can reduce pain significantly. The menopause is a big event in a woman’s life and shouldn’t be underestimated, it represents a transition around our fertility and there are some big emotions tied into it that need to be acknowledged and talked through.”

Susan Burry

Susan Burry – Registered Dietitian added:

“Changing your lifestyle and nutrition can help when your estrogen levels start changing to reduce the symptoms, keep bone density and reduce the risk of heart disease. Aim to have 2-3 portions of calcium-rich foods per day along with your Vitamin D supplement in the winter months. Reduce caffeine and alcohol intake to manage hot flushes. Try more plant-based proteins such as nuts, peas, and lentils along with those brightly coloured fruits and veggies.”

Adam Mufti – Physiotherapist, concluded

“Menopause is indeed a complex transition and issues such as musculoskeletal and bone health can often become more apparent as both bone and muscle become porous and weak in response to the complex hormonal changes.
The most important thing in these cases is to remain active and employ a strength training programme. Numerous studies show this to be very effective at treating the pain of arthritis, improving bone and muscle health and also some evidence is now emerging that weight training can reverse early arthritic changes.
Physiotherapy can help guide you finding activity and exercise you enjoy, modify activities that are painful so that you can continue to do the things that you enjoy for longer.”