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Elemental
Your life, sourced by science. A publication from Medium about health and wellness.

Tech

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Throw out the tedious calculus. It’s not that complicated. The simple answer to the question on everyone’s mind:

Photo: Andrea Lightfoot/Unsplash

Herd immunity to Covid-19 is an enigma. It’s universally sought after regardless of party affiliation, religious creed, or level of vaccine acceptance. Think about it. Are you pro-herd immunity or anti-? Pro, of course! At the same time, it’s so poorly understood. How many people does it require? Is it permanent or temporary? Will it actually change anything? When can I take this frickin mask off?!?

NFL quarterback Cam Newton once said, “Hindsight is always 50–50.” I don’t bring that up to disparage Mr. Newton. In fact, he was quick to correct his mixed metaphor just seconds later. …


The future is bright, but also a little weird (see: wellness toilets)

Photo: TheDman/Getty Images

Fitness wearables have been around for over a decade now, and the extraordinary circumstances of 2020 and 2021 have only made the idea of self-monitoring health more attractive to many.

The latest innovations were on display recently at an all-virtual rendition of CES, the popular tech conference hosted by the Consumer Technology Association. With a spectrum of health challenges for tech mavericks to address, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, screen addiction, and rising food allergies, this year’s showing gave a snapshot of what wellness devices you may see in the not-so-distant future.

Smart health devices: The biggest trends

When it came to wellness gadgetry at CES…


New technology tracks performance and provides cues to help you improve mid-run

An aerial photo of a person running on a track. Their shadow looks like it’s running.
An aerial photo of a person running on a track. Their shadow looks like it’s running.
Photo: Westend61/Getty Images

I was zoning out halfway through a long run when I heard a tinny voice in my ear: “Your cadence is low,” it said. “Step faster!” It was almost alarming, until I remembered I had switched out my AirPods for a pair of Soul Electronics earbuds with built-in A.I. coaching technology. As a seven-time marathoner, I usually rely on coaches or friends to help me pick up the pace or adjust my form when I’m bored or burned out; these headphones promised that same feedback while running solo.

Companies are starting to use artificial intelligence in fitness gear, with proprietary…


In this extremely digital time, pricey blue light skin care products promise to protect against ‘digital aging’

A bluish image of a blank Macbook computer screen.
A bluish image of a blank Macbook computer screen.
Photo: Anton Eine/EyeEm/Getty Images

In the Covid-19 era, with its tech-heavy home office setups, nightly video calls, and hours of boredom-induced social media scrolling and Netflix binges, it should come as no surprise that screen time is through the roof. In March, it was reported that smartphone use was up by 70% worldwide, while laptop usage saw a 40% increase.

The health effects of blue light — the type of light emitted from digital screens — has been a hot topic for years. Research has already shown that blue light can disrupt sleep patterns. It is also — although somewhat questionably — linked to…


Researchers have known for years that wearables could be useful for detecting illness. Now they’re exploring whether fitness devices could help track and even contain Covid-19.

Photo: Mark Cacovic/Getty Images

As a runner, I live by my fitness tracker data — not just to record pace and distance, but to determine how I slept the night before, measure how recovered my body is from my last workout, and see how my training is progressing. I check my data every morning when I wake up, and after every run.

In January, I noticed that my resting heart rate had, out of nowhere, jumped 10 points. I knew that meant my body was working harder than normal, as if I were sick, although I didn’t have any typical cold symptoms, like a…


Tech startups want to provide self-swab kits, but the FDA has stepped in

Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

You may soon be able to swab your nose at home and send the sample away to get tested for coronavirus without having to leave your couch — if U.S. government officials allow it.

Last week, a handful of telemedicine companies announced plans to make at-home collection kits available to patients suspected of having Covid-19. Tech startups like Nurx, Carbon Health, and Everlywell were set to ship thousands of at-home testing kits to customers this week.

But both Nurx and Carbon Health paused sales of their tests after the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees diagnostic tests, issued a strongly…


What scientists are learning about ‘hidden hearing loss’

Illustration: Jon Han

Take a stroll down a busy street and the sounds are everywhere — and even more pernicious to your hearing than you might expect, considering that normal speaking volume registers just 60 decibels. Cars honking, sirens wailing? That’s 85 decibels of sound. An approaching subway train launches 100 decibels into the air.

Think it’s safer in the suburbs? The leaf blower: 85 decibels. The dog who decides to bark in the car: 110 decibels.

And lest we forget about AirPods: Those minuscule technological gadgets can send pulsating waves at decibel levels above 100 directly into your ear. …


Research indicates smartphones, in particular, may impact what people remember down the line

Illustration: Andrea Manzati

I remember, when I was fourteen years old, spending a few weeks at my aunt’s house in Humboldt County, CA, where my evenings were consumed by hours spent chatting with friends on AOL Instant Messenger. Some of those friendships would go on to become meaningful, defining aspects of my time spent in high school, while others faded away, united by little more than time zones and a similar taste in music.

But there is one thing all these online conversations had in common: I remember almost none of them.

I have no idea what we talked about. I scarcely remember…


Illustration: Matija Medved

Optimize Me

You can consume more content by speeding it up, but what is it doing to your brain?

Optimize Me is an Elemental column exploring (and fact-checking) the weirdest self-improvement trends. It comes out every Tuesday.

My friend Meggie consumes everything at 1.5x speed. She started doing it to zoom through work training videos and recordings of meetings she has to watch for her job at Google. Then she started speeding up the podcasts and audiobooks she listens to on her two-hour daily commute. She estimates she listens to 10 hours of audio content a week and can go through a couple of books a month this way.

“It’s almost like I can gameify [reading] by listening at…


Welcome to the new world of brain-sensing and brain-training devices

Chris Aimone and Ariel Garten, cofounders of InteraXon, are sitting down in seated positions wearing the Muse headband.
Chris Aimone and Ariel Garten, cofounders of InteraXon, are sitting down in seated positions wearing the Muse headband.
Chris Aimone (left) and Ariel Garten, cofounders of InteraXon, developed the Muse headband designed to help you meditate. Photo: Melissa Renwick/Toronto Star/Getty

It’s 4 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon and I’m sitting on the couch, surrounded by the noises of a virtual rainstorm. I’m wearing a metallic headband that loops behind my ears and across my forehead, stuck tight to my skin with suction. As I sit still, the headband hums slightly, collecting data about my brain through EEG sensors. When my brain becomes more active — specifically when my dog drops a toy on my lap or when I’m thinking about what to make for dinner — the sound of the rainstorm increases to a loud din. When I focus on…

Elemental

Your life, sourced by science. A publication from Medium about health and wellness.

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