Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Humana's Cue app strengthens healthy habits


When I was a kid and my mother thought I was slouching, she had a special way of telling me to stand up – a knuckle burrowed deep into the small of my back. Simple, but effective. And long lasting. I still think about mom and her knuckle when I catch myself hunched over my computer keyboard.
I think my mother and most moms would appreciate Cue, a new iPhone app that also knows the value of healthy habits and well-timed encouragement. I spent two weeks checking out a pre-release version of the app, which was developed by Humana, the health insurance company that sponsors My Well-Being.
Cue delivers a series of timed reminders, or cues, that prompt you throughout the day to do simple things that are good for your body and your state of mind. Like a text message, the cues pop up on your iPhone or Apple Watch.
At various times during the day, the notifications prompt you to do one of these things: stretch, straighten up, drink water, move around, go outside or focus on your breathing. The app also explains why those are all good ideas. Stretching, for instance, increases blood flow to your muscles. Good posture makes you less tired. Walking gets your heart pumping and burns calories while adequate hydration fights headaches, dizziness and dry skin.
When Cue tells you to go outside, it’s because fresh air and sunshine can improve your mood and increase creativity.  Sunlight also helps your body produce Vitamin D, which helps strengthen your bones. The version of the app that I installed said the same thing about breathing. I’m guessing that’s an oversight that will be changed before the app goes public.

Users can choose to receive five or nine cues each day. And they can let the app use the phone’s motion sensor to deliver “smart cues.” If you’ve been sitting at your desk or in your favorite TV chair for a couple of hours, that would be a good time to be prompted to walk around or get some fresh air.

If you act on a cue, you can log your actions in the app. The home screen acts as a scoreboard listing your current streak – how many times in a row you stretched or drank some water – and your personal best for each topic. Unlike some smart pedometers, Cue doesn’t have a link to social media or a group scoreboard but those features might turn up in a later version. Picture a room full of office workers simultaneously taking a seventh inning stretch.

Like my mom’s knuckle technique, Cue is a simple and potentially effective, if you take it seriously. You probably knew all the reasons why you should stretch, walk and get out of the house. Maybe your mother told you that those things, like broccoli, are good for you. All you need now is a frequent reminder and a gentle nudge.


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Follow me on Twitter @ricmanning and read my technology columns at My Well Being.


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