These 12 health products actually changed our lives in 2016

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Business Insider

If you can wear it, order it, stream it, or ‘gram it, we’ve probably tried it. Much as we hate to admit it, most of the health products we sampled in 2016 were hardly life-changing.

Sure, there was the occasional look of surprise or curious query we got when we were wearing it around the office, but we found most extra gadgets we could largely do without.

These products, on the other hand, significantly shifted our view of some pretty important things – from giving us new insight into what motivates us to be more active to changing how we think about mental health.

Have some life-changing health gadgets you think we missed? They can be apps, online services, wearable devices – you name it. Tell us!


The 7-minute workout app, which made it possible to get our hearts racing without leaving home.

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Business Insider/Erin Brodwin

When we first heard about The 7-Minute Workout, an app that promises to grant you the benefits of a sweaty bike ride and a trip to the gym in just a few minutes, we thought it was all hype.

But as it turns out, the app actually, well, works you out.

We tried it for the first time in January, and we’re still hooked. It’s perfect on the weekends, when one of us can’t make it to yoga, or as something fun to do with a friend at home. Here’s how it works.

Cost: Free on the App Store.


Fitbit, because it showed one of us that behavior tracking can be great — for some people.

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Fitbit

It started out innocently enough. One of us got an old Fitbit fitness tracker from a friend who bought the new model. It was great at first. We were taking the stairs more often at work, walking outside to make phone calls, and even joining in on the occasional “Weekend Warrior” competition, a mini marathon you do with your friends to see who can get the most steps in a weekend.

This type of behavioral change helps a lot of people meet their fitness goals. For some, it’s worked for weight loss; for others, it’s simply helped them be motivated to move around more.

But we went overboard with all the tallying, and had to take it off after a month-long trial.

“I learned I’m perfectly fine without an external tracker,” one of us wrote. “I have a natural internal one that’s more than sufficient.”

Cost: $120 for the latest Charge model, the Charge 2


Nurx, a service that let us order birth control online and delivered it to our doorstep — for free.

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Hollis Johnson

Fact: Getting birth control pills is no easy task.

But a handful of apps is hoping to change that. They’re designed to let you order birth control from your smartphone or computer in just a few minutes – no doctor’s visit required.

Having been on birth control for a decade, I decided to try out one of the apps, called Nurx, for myself. The site was easy to navigate and thanks to the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), my birth control was free and shipped to my doorstep in days.

Cost: Generics free; Brand-names vary.


The iPhone Night Shift feature, because it changed the way we think about powering down.

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Shutterstock

The crisp blue light emitted by everything from your TV to your smartphone is wreaking havoc on your health. It tamps down on the production of melatonin, a key hormone our brains use to tell our bodies to start preparing for sleep. That’s something you don’t want to be doing at night, especially around bedtime.

Enter Apple’s solution to the problem: a feature on iPhones that transitions the screen’s hue from blue to red as the sun sets.

It worked for us, but a sleep scientist also warned us not to rely too much on it. If you regularly have trouble sleeping, he said, you should still practice healthy sleep habits like shutting off mobile devices 30 minutes before bed.

Cost: Free, included in iOS 7


23andMe’s genetics test, because it sent us on a quest to figure out what our genes can tell us.

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Lydia Ramsey/Business Insider

We tried out our first direct-to-consumer genetics test, 23andMe’s revamped test featuring ancestry and health reports, last year. In 2016, we went on to test a few more.

Taking these tests taught us more about what we can – and can’t – learn from our genes. For one thing, one of us learned definitively where her ancestors came from. She also found that there are certain types of tests she’s more comfortable taking, and others – like ones that screen for genetic variants that could predispose you to cancer – that she likely won’t try out until she’s had a good, long chat with her doctor and family.

In the meantime, here’s a guide to how to pick the best one for you.

Cost: $199, $99 if you just want the ancestry components.


The Pip, and other stress-tracking gadgets, which helped us calm down in stressful situations.

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Lydia Ramsey

After testing out the Spire in 2015, we were eager to check out other stress tracking devices, including one called the Pip.

The Pip looks at your stress levels by collectingelectrodermal activity, also known as a galvanic skin response and skin conductance, via tiny electrical signals on your fingertips. You conduct more electricity the more you sweat.

Unlike a wearable tracker, the Pip doesn’t monitor your stress levels throughout the day. Instead, you devote a few minutes once or twice a day to sit down, pull out your Pip, and practice getting in control of your stress. That relieved the pressure that can come from wearable devices that constantly buzzed on your wrist, which can be stress-inducing.

Cost: $179.99 on Amazon.


Strava, because it gave us a way to track a run without wearing a watch.

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Strava

We tested out seven science-backed fitness apps in March, and by December, Strava became the only app one of us consistently used.

With Strava, you can hit record, slip your iPhone in your pocket, and forget about it until the end of a run. Once you finish, you can look back and see how well you did. Plus, the app has a social component that makes it fun to join challenges (for example, try to run 10 miles in one month), or send other runners “kudos” for their runs.

Cost: Free


Zocdoc, which helped us find doctors in a new city.

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ZocDoc screen grab

After living in the suburbs of Chicago for 22 years, it was finally time for one of us to move all her doctors to the East Coast. When the time came, we tried to call places directly, but the earliest appointment we could get was often two months out. Not wanting to commit most of the day to making calls around Manhattan looking for a doctor, we decided to test out Zocdoc, an app that’s available across the US.

Its interface was simple, and we could find appointments based on our insurance much easier than going through my insurer’s website. Where it shines as an app is helping you get your foot in the door of new doctors’ offices. After that, we were able to set up follow-up appointments directly with the office.

Cost: Free.


Coffee Cubes, which may have tasted gross, but got us thinking about regulating caffeine.

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Lydia Ramsey/Business Insider

In March, one of us tried to go a week eating their caffeine in the form of Nootrobox “Go Cubes.” The experience was rough, but it changed the way we thought about caffeine. We soon realized that we had no real clue how much caffeine we were consuming on a daily basis – which left us jittery on some days and sleepy on others.

After the experiment, one of us transitioned from a daily latte habit to diet caffeinated soda, which has about half the caffeine content. Quantifying her caffeine has also helped her cut back on her habit – though sometimes it’s hard to resist a cup of cold brew with 185 milligrams of caffeine (almost half of the 400 milligram daily limit).

Cost: $42 for a box on Amazon, $39 via Nootrobox.com


Brain stimulation showed us ways we might use electricity to enhance athletic or academic performance in the future.

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Halo Neuroscience

This year, one of us got to try out a brain stimulating headset that’s supposed to improve your brain’s ability to learn skills and movements helpful to any kind of sport.

It’s still unclear whether that specific device – or any of the brain stimulating headsets out there – can really do what they claim to do.

But there are reasons to think electrical stimulation might actually be able to improve cognitive – and perhaps by extension, physical – performance. And this year, our experience helped demonstrate how easy that process might be, once we’re able to fully prove that it works as well as researchers hope it does. It’s easy to see a potential future where people trying to learn certain skills or concepts forego some caffeine in favor of a more electric boost.


Virtual reality finally took off for regular users, giving a boost to the therapists and educators who’ve been interested in the technology for years.

Some people thought 2016 was going to be the “year of VR,” as this was the year that high quality, (relatively) affordable consumer headsets like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR went on sale. From a consumer perspective, we’d say this was more “the year of the start of VR,” as virtual reality experiences so far are a whole lot of fun, but not yet widespread enough to be mainstream.

But the effect these devices have on our minds is a whole lot of fun, and it’s something that’s hard to understand without fully experiencing it. It’s powerful – and it also has other potential.

Therapists treating PTSD, addiction, and other conditions have been developing ways to use VR in a medical context for years now, and the recent boom is making those treatments far more accessible. And that opens up the potential for new types of experiences that show people things they wouldn’t see otherwise and help generate empathy for others.

“There are so many ways we can improve life for healthy people as well as for people with mental health conditions,” Skip Rizzo, a pioneer in the field, told us.


Sworkit helped us get a good workout in anywhere without any special equipment.

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Sworkit

While some of us preferred Strava or The 7-Minute Workout app, Sworkit was another one that we found helpful and easy to stick with.

It offers a good range of workouts that rely on bodyweight techniques, so it can be used anywhere for custom amounts of time. And the different sessions work like playlists for fitness that you can just follow along, since the app shows you how to do each exercise.

And while no app is perfect, this got a nice endorsement from the scientific community as well: A team of sports scientists analyzed 30 popular free fitness apps and found that Sworkit was the most closely aligned with the American College of Sports Medicine’s training guidelines.