Biofeedback Technology Recommendations: Supporting Methods and Devices
This article follows my previous article on biofeedback as a practice for improving your health and wellness. Now that you know the importance of feedback in your pursuit of physical wellness and wellbeing, it is time to look at some of the supporting methods and devices.
What the personal computer did for business and education, today’s biotechnology is doing for personal improvement. I’m not just referring to improvements in weight and other indicators of physical health. I am talking about improvements in your physical, mental, and emotional health and wellness.
Mind, body, and emotions all go hand in hand. If you truly want to live a long fulfilling life you have to balance all three. The good news is, whatever you do for one, you do for all. Fixing your sleep helps with weight loss, but it also helps with reducing stress, depression, and anxiety. Fixing your breathing helps energize your muscles and organs, but also helps you focus and relax. Developing a meditation practice not only reduces stress but also improves blood pressure and mental focus.
The methods and devices described below are all highly recommend and I have personally used them for years. The devices can get expensive, but the devices I am recommending are inexpensive or free. If you have a smartphone you already have a powerful set of tools at your disposal. Regardless of my recommendations, I highly recommend doing a little research on your own to find methods and devices that fit your goals and budget.
If you have a smartphone then this list of free apps will provide excellent biofeedback at no expense. But don’t let the word “free” fool you. They all have their limitations, but the benefits outweigh the limitations.
Step Counters: All smartphones have some sort of step counter as a basic app. The accelerometers in your smartphone allow for accurate step counts as long as you carry your phone on you. Normally I recommend keeping a healthy distance from your smartphone as much as you can for reasons I will explain in a later article. However, when it comes to step counting, one of the limitations is you have to have your smartphone with you when you go out for your walk or run. No problem. Just limit carrying your smartphone to when you are intentionally out for an exercise trip, then leave it on the desk or charger the rest of the time. Counting your steps, like anything you measure, helps to motivate you to do it regularly. Studies have shown, we tend to improve the things we measure.
Check out this article for a review of the 6 Best step counter apps for iOS and Android
Sleep Monitors: When it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, quantity is not as important as quality. You need to be getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night, but it needs to be quality sleep. Sleep monitors are also readily available on smartphones and can provide feedback as to how quiet and restful your sleep was the night before. They have their limitations, but for the simple task of measuring the amount and quality of your sleep, they can be very helpful. If you decide to apply sleep tape to improve your sleep by reducing snoring and sleep apnea, you should see an immediate improvement reported by your sleep app.
Check out this article by the Sleep Foundation for The Best Apps for Sleep
Log or Journal: Good old paper and pencil can be very useful when combined with a few moments of self-evaluation. You can learn a lot about the changes in your overall health and wellness by logging specific aspects of yourself throughout the day. This way, as you apply specific changes to your diet and exercise, you can see how they are impacting your life.
Simply ask yourself, or score yourself on a 1 – 10 range, things like “How energized are you when you wake up? How productive did you feel today? How happy do you feel today? How do you feel 30 minutes after eating a meal? Did you require a nap or caffeine boost in the afternoon? How quickly do you fall asleep? How many times did you wake up during the night? Was your mouth moist or dry when you woke up?”
If you use a food journal you can add these questions and combine the results to see how different foods affect your physical and emotional wellbeing. Several small changes can add up to big results.
If you spend any time learning about health and wellness improvement you probably know the value trade-off by eliminating bad habits and adding good habits. As much as most people think Starbucks is the gold standard for excellent coffee (it is not…just check the ingredients and try not to barf), if you eliminated a daily Starbucks coffee you could use the extra $120 each month on something more beneficial to your health. The following low-cost biofeedback devices will more than pay for themselves.
Sports Watch/Fitness Tracker: Sports watches have come a long way from their early days. The first sports watches were not much more than a traditional watch with a stopwatch feature. That’s great if you’re a runner and want to track your pace and split times. But the modern-day optimizer who wants to improve their health with a range of information needs a lot more. Fortunately, more tech companies are entering the consumer market and they are raising the bar on what it means to be a sports watch.
The entry point for any self-respecting watch is step count and pulse rate. But if you truly want to be in the wearable business you also have to offer a companion mobile app. Fit Bit was one of the first wearable companies to offer a low-cost full featured watch with step count, stair count, pulse rate, and a good mobile app to record your progress. Today all major watch brands as well as the former GPS company TomTom have full-featured sports watches with mobile apps.
Personally, I have put hundreds of miles across Fit Bit, TomTom, and now Suunto sports watches. If you decide to pick up one of these biofeedback beauties, it’s good to Google “Best fitness trackers” to see the latest lineup. The competition is fierce. Today you can get a well-equipped sports watch for under $200.
Oura Ring: This amazing device is in a class by itself. If I had one “must-have” biofeedback device it would be the Oura ring. I’m in my 3rd year with mine. When it comes to key health indicators it far outclasses any sports watch.
Oura Ring provides continuous feedback on your level of activity, not just step counts. In addition, it’s pretty good at guessing your activity when you are doing something more than walking or puttering around the house. You can also add activity time for things like yoga that don’t elevate heart rate or involve much forward movement enough to pick up on the activity. But it knows when you go for a run, cycle, or even yard work.
The best part of Oura Ring is the information you get from your sleep time. It is super important to get good quality sleep. With the Oura Ring, you can see how much time you spend sleeping versus just laying in bed. You can also see the amount of time you spend in deep sleep and in REM sleep, 2 important modes you absolutely must get enough of if you plan to crush it the next morning.
Using your resting heart rate data and heart rate variability data throughout the day also tells you if you are getting enough movement as well as rest. All of this information is used to determine your readiness score. The higher the score, the more you can push yourself. At the same time, lower readiness scores simply tell you when you need to take it down a notch and spend a little more time on recovery.
Check out the Oura Ring
Lumen: I have been an advocate of healthy eating, sleeping, and breathing for a number of years. But it has been difficult to know exactly how all of this is impacting my metabolism and ability to energize my body. One key thing I have discovered in my research into breathwork is the important role carbon dioxide plays in overall health. In a future article, I will go deeper into the biochemistry of the breath, but in short, carbon dioxide is the primary trigger for breathing and in the transference of oxygen to the body’s tissues and organs.
Carbon dioxide is the gas produced from cellular combustion, where oxygen and fuel (glucose or fat) combust in the cell’s mitochondria to produce ATP. This is the key to the Lumen; it measures the amount of carbon dioxide in your exhaled breath to determine how much of your cell’s energy is coming from the combustion of fat or glucose. High levels of carbon dioxide indicate glucose (carb) burning, whereas lower levels indicate fat burning.
In short, this little device can help you dial in your daily diet and activity so you can burn more fat and less glucose. I’ve just started using this device myself so I don’t have a lot of data to report, but knowing how this thing works, I have no doubt this is the game changer I have been looking for.
Check out the Lumen
CGM Meters: CGM, or Continuous Glucose Monitoring, is a device most commonly used by people suffering from type-2 diabetes. For diabetics, it is a life-saving technology that alerts them when their glucose levels get too high or low, requiring immediate interventions. But lately, biohackers have been using these devices to monitor their own glucose levels to see how their body responds to different foods, as well as other factors such as time of day and the effects of exercise.
Similar to the Lumen device, it helps you dial in your dietary intake for maximum energy and/or fat loss. The difference between a CGM and the Lumen is that the CGM is getting its data directly from your blood on a continuous basis. If you have undiagnosed food allergies or glucose issues such as hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia, a CGM may be the better option. Also, if you have any known health issues it is best to use a CGM under the care of a health care professional.
Check with your healthcare provider for a recommendation
The world of biofeedback and biotechnology for lifestyle improvements is just getting started. We are truly in the early stages of a period of great promise for helping people take back control of their health and wellness. There are large groups of biohackers investing in new biotech companies and they are out to do all they can to empower society with the information and tools they need to live a long fulfilling life.
Author and Optimize Coach
David is a writer and coach specialing in awakening human potential. David likes to think of himself as a conscious creator, student of life, Super Dad, chef, Spartan Athlete, and Optimize Performance Coach. Writing for Dr. Kusher and the CFL community is just one of his many joys.