The Optimal iPhone Settings and Best Apps for Productivity, Focus, and Health

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Use These Apps and Configurations for Longevity

#30. Track steps this way

Skip this step if you already have a way you track steps. Lots of you have Fitbits or other ways to do this.

If you aren’t already using a pedometer, your iPhone will automatically track steps for you in the Health App. However, you don’t want to have to open that app in order to see your step count.

So, you’re going to need to install an app that comes with a Today screen widget. My recommendation is Pedometer++.

Widget and in-app views.

Widget and in-app views.

  • Go to Settings > Privacy> Motion & Fitness and make sure that Fitness Tracking is turned on.
  • Then install the Pedometer++ app.
  • Add the Pedometer++ to your Today home screen.

You’re building up reasons now to check your Today screen daily. That’s good.

Also, I went looking for some research to include here on the benefits of 10,000 steps. Unsurprisingly, the pleasing roundness of that number owes more to marketing than to any particular science (9,901 steps is practically just as good).

There is quality research on the health benefits of even tiny amounts of walking (much less than 10,000 steps): trading two minutes of sitting per hour for two minutes of walking per hour reduced mortality by 33%.

That’s not a justification for doing a full more-is-better 10,000 steps though. The science for doing more walking is mixed, and requires piecing together your own projections. For instance, this 2004 Arizona State paper classifies people who walk 10,000 steps as active and people who walk 12,500 as highly active. But they leave it up to you to cross reference other studies on the health benefits of being in either activity category.

So, my recommendation is to wait on the science and trust your gut instead. For most people, walking feels good. It’s a chance to use your body, to build up pride in a consistent amount of activity, to listen to podcasts, to see your town or city. Those should be reason enough.

#31. Prefer time restricted eating over calorie counting

You’ve heard losing weight is calories in, calories out (CICO). And then you might have also heard this is wrong or at least misguided.

The official position in the Better Humans publication is that CICO is just the wrong framing. Rather, instead, you need to think: to lose weight, I need to burn fat.

Our position is that weight loss is all about putting your body into fat-burning situations.

Calorie restriction, it turns out, is not guaranteed to lead to a fat-burning situation. It can instead lead to a lower metabolism.

What does lead to fat loss then? Low carb diets and fasting. And the most common form of fasting is time-restricted eating, where you fit all your eating into an 8 hour window and then fast for the next 16 hours. People refer to this as 16:8.

Additionally, my experience watching people diet (I ran a 15,000 person diet study and have had more than 100,000 dieters come through, is that time restricted eating is an easier behavior change. Basically, it’s easier to train your body to skip breakfast than it is to give up carbs, not for a month, but for the rest of your actual life.

Of course, you can combine both approaches. But if you had to pick one, I’d start with time restricted eating.

If you absolutely want to go Low Carb, download MyFitnessPal and upgrade ($49.99/year) so that you can track macros. You want to keep your carbs below about 50g. If you don’t pay for the upgrade, you’ll only be able to see calories and I’m telling you that’s not effective.

But really, where I want you to start is just to skip all of that food restriction stuff and start with time restricted eating. As an example, I try to stop eating before 8pm and then don’t start again until noon the next day.

To track all of this, use an app called Zero and put it on your home screen.

  • Install the Zero app.
  • When you stop eating today, open the app and start your fast.
  • Don’t eat again until your fasting counter hits 16 hours.

Most of my fasts end up being 14–16 hours, and then there are always a few 20 hour fasts. The longest I’ve ever fasted is 46 hours.

The best explanation why fasting leads to burning fat and why simple calorie restriction leads to lower metabolism comes from Dr. Jason Fung.

Consider that your body has two primary sources for fuel. One is glycogen, i.e. the carbs you eat. And the other is stored fat. Your body uses insulin to switch from one source to the other.

Specifically, when you are in a fed state, i.e. you ate recently, your body releases insulin, which inhibits your body from burning fat. Dr. Fung’s uses a train track visualization below and I always try to keep in mind which track I’m intending to be on.

#32. Schedule Night Shift starting 4 hours before you normally go to bed

Night shift “shifts” the colors of your display away from the blue spectrum and toward the warmer (redder) spectrum. That’s supposed to help you sleep better.

  • Go to Settings > Display & Brightness > Night Shift.
  • Schedule Night Shift starting four hours before your normal bed time.
  • Move the warmth slider all the way to the right (More Warm).

The standard advice seems to be to avoid screen time and blue light starting two hours before your bed time.

However, my experience with sleep coaching is that people are often going to bed much later than they should, often because of a phone addiction. Starting Night Shift four hours earlier gives you an opportunity to both go to sleep more easily and also to shift your bed time up. If you find yourself going to bed earlier, then just get up earlier. Congratulations, you’ve become a morning person.

The case against screens is strong. Here a quote from one study:

We found that the use of these devices before bedtime prolongs the time it takes to fall asleep, delays the circadian clock, suppresses levels of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, reduces the amount and delays the timing of REM sleep, and reduces alertness the following morning.

All bad.

The science for the red shift as a solution to all of the above negative effects is much more iffy. In fact, Night Shift is a pretty silly feature. The studies say blue light is bad. But at the time the Night Shift feature was built, nobody had done proper testing of red light. It turns out red light is also bad.

So, the reason I like this feature is because it’s a prompt to start working on your evening routine to head to bed. Basically, it’s just a color coded reminder. That’s it.


#33. Set up Medical ID

The Medical ID feature makes key medical information available to strangers when your phone is locked.

If you are incapacitated during a medical emergency, a stranger can go to your power-off screen (long press right button and volume up on modern iPhones). That’s where your Medical ID info will be.

  • Go to Health App > Medical ID > Edit
  • Everyone should add an emergency medical contact.
  • Your medications and medical conditions would be public to anyone who picks up your phone. If that worries you, put a note instead: “Call emergency contact for medications and medical conditions.”
  • Knowing your blood type doesn’t appear to be very helpful in an emergency situation. Paramedics aren’t carrying blood — they pump you with fluids instead. Then when you reach the hospital, they’ll give you the universal donor, O-negative.
  • I labeled myself an Organ Donor and went through Apple’s DonateLife integration. Then I tweeted about it. The more people who sign up for Organ Donation, the more likely your own life is going to be saved. So the selfish step here is to use your own organ donation status to encourage other people to become organ donors.

I see Medical ID as having three practical benefits to you, in order of likelihood.

  • A kind stranger finds your lost phone and calls your emergency contact.
  • You have a life-threatening situation, and the doctors call your emergency contact.
  • You influence someone else to become an Organ Donor and then they end up donating an organ to you. The literal likelihood of this is very, very low.

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