4 Ways Your Smart Speaker Can Help You Manage Your Health

How Your Voice Assistant Can Improve Your Health

You can ask your voice assistant to set medication reminders, monitor your health data, and more.

Years ago, talking to the TV might have gotten you a funny look, but times have changed. Today, more and more people are chatting up Alexa, Google, and Siri to make their lives easier. Want to hear a song, check the weather, or look up a fact while you’re stirring risotto across the room? Just talk to your device.

The voice-activated assistant programs in your phone, tablet, or smart speaker allow you to call out commands or search the internet hands-free. But that’s just the beginning: Your smart devices can also help manage your health. And the list of things they can do grows every day.

“Whether you’re fit and independent, serving as a caregiver, or challenged with memory loss, smart speakers can be instrumental in healthy aging,” says Liron Sinvani, M.D., a geriatric specialist with the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York.

Here are four ways you can put your virtual assistant to work for your health, and tips for protecting your privacy along the way.

1. Manage medications

If keeping your meds organized feels challenging, you’re not alone. An article in the journal Health Education Research suggests that medication mismanagement is so common that it’s considered a growing public health concern.

One of the main ways a virtual assistant can be useful every day is by keeping track of your medications, Dr. Sinvani says.

You can schedule reminders with your device. If you use Apple’s iPhone, for example, just say “Hey, Siri! Remind me to take my pills at 8 p.m. every night.”

Amazon’s Alexa works similarly. And if you have multiple Amazon smart devices, you can have Alexa announce the reminder on all of them. That way you’ll hear the alert no matter where you are.

Your device may also be able to help you refill prescriptions by placing a call to the pharmacy or by automatically ordering refills online as scheduled. You can also ask your virtual assistant to look up important info about your meds, including common side effects or discount pricing programs.

2. Get moving

Moving every so often during the day is good for your health, and it doesn’t take much movement to make a difference, research shows. For example, a recent study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that just three minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise for every hour of the day spent sitting can counteract the health risks associated with sitting.

Your virtual assistant can remind you to get up and get moving. You might say, “Okay, Google, ask me to dance every afternoon.” Or “Alexa! Remind me to take a short walk at 9 a.m. and noon.”

You may not want a reminder every hour, but a few nudges a day might help you be more active. Dividing your activity into frequent, brief sessions throughout the day is great, but it’s also okay to do it in one large block. Just remember the rule: three minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise for every hour of sitting.

3. Monitor your health data

Increasingly, tech companies are making it easier to keep track of health data and spot trouble early.

For example, Amazon’s Alexa-enabled devices can work with a Dexcom continuous glucose monitor. Using an Alexa skill called Sugarmate, you can say “Alexa, ask Sugarmate for my latest reading.” (Alexa skills are like apps; you can browse and search available skills through your Alexa smartphone app.) If your device has a screen, it can display your results so you can see trends in your blood sugar and help you stay in range.

Wellness programs and apps are also working with voice assistants. For instance, WW (formerly Weight Watchers) has commands for Apple’s Siri programmed into its app. If you’re working toward a healthier diet or getting more activity, you can ask Siri to track these things for you with just your voice. You can set up “Siri shortcuts” in the app’s settings.

4. Stress less

A large part of managing any health issue, especially a chronic condition, is keeping stress in check. Your virtual assistant can help you relax.

For example, you can play a guided meditation, calming music, or a relaxing bedtime story from an app such as Headspace or Calm, which can be found in Apple’s App Store or the Google Play Store. You can use Siri shortcuts to enable the voice assistant or check for Alexa skills.

Your voice assistant can also lower stress simply by helping you stay connected, Dr. Sinvani says. You can ask it to make a phone call to a loved one, play trivia games with others, or listen to the news. These things can all feel like companionship, she says. That’s good for your quality of life and healthy aging.

What about privacy?

Don’t forget that whenever you use a virtual assistant, you’re sharing health information and other details about yourself. So be sure to put some safeguards in place to protect your privacy.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a voice assistant records what you say every time you interact with one. It may also start recording when it thinks it’s heard the “wake word” (such as “Siri,” “Alexa,” or “Google”).

Each company manages and uses these recordings in different ways; this information can be found in the privacy policy. If your device has a screen, you can even ask it to show you the privacy policy.

The FTC offers tips for how to configure your device so it’s not “listening” unless you tell it to be active. The FTC also suggests reviewing your use occasionally and deleting old recordings.

Instructions for reviewing or deleting recordings will vary by device, but again, you can ask your device for help.

According to Amazon, you can view, hear, and delete your voice recordings, or choose not to have your voice recordings saved at all. To delete recordings from the past 10 minutes, say, “Alexa, delete what I just said.” To delete all your voice recordings, just say, “Alexa, delete everything I’ve ever said.”

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