Is your phone full of useless apps you’ve used once or twice? With over 43,000 health apps on the market (1), we’ve all tried our share of apps that over-promised and under-delivered.
The popularity of wearable trackers and health and fitness apps is growing at a rapid rate; consumers are offered a dizzying array of choices. So how do you find reliable apps that can actually help you achieve your goals? Start by asking these two questions:
1. What’s My Goal?
Are you sedentary and looking to start a walking program? Are you already active and training for a race? Or do you want to lose that extra 30 pounds once and for all? There are plenty of flashy apps that offer a lot of bells and whistles, but that doesn’t mean they’re more effective.
My best advice is this — keep it simple. Apps that offer too many features can be overwhelming and may distract you from the behaviors that really make a difference for lasting success. If your goal is weight loss, for example, choose a user-friendly app that allows you to keep a meal diary, track your workouts, and connect for social support. My favorite is Lose It! — this app has a huge nutrition database, a simple meal diary, a basic fitness tracker, and a friends feature. For running, I like RunKeeper — because usually all I need is my total time, pace, and distance, and the occasional workout idea. For meditation, I love Meditation Buddy — I set my time, choose a sound (like rain, beach, thunder, etc.), press play, and close my eyes.
2. Does Data Motivate Me?
Self-monitoring is a well-researched technique for successful behavior change. Some people love tracking weight or workout data; seeing the numbers move up, down, or hold steady can be very motivating; others hate it or just aren’t interested. If data is your thing, you can get a device that syncs to an app with your workout stats like steps, distance, speed, heart rate, and more. I’ve been wearing a Fitbit for 3 years, and I love it — knowing where I stand with my daily steps really does get me up and moving on otherwise sedentary days.
I’ve also worked with clients who were obsessed with their fitness and weight loss data; they became distressed if they didn’t track one day or didn’t have access to the app — and paid more attention to the data than to their own feelings of energy, fatigue, hunger, and fullness. This is an example of data use that isn’t helpful — and isn’t sustainable.
If data isn’t your thing, look for an instructional app that guides you through workouts or offers health advice from a reputable source instead of tracking your every move.
The concept of having a personal trainer or meal diary in your pocket is what makes apps so enticing. But concepts don’t always translate well into practical, everyday use and lasting behavior change. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference and what works for you. What health or fitness app is your fave, and why? We’d love to hear about it.
- Reynolds, A, Critically Evaluating Health Apps, ACSM’s Certified News, Volume 24, Issue 3, 2014
Beth Shepard, MS, ACSM-RCEP, ACE-PT, has a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Arizona. Beth is an expert in fitness and health promotion and a certified wellness coach, helping people thrive by adopting sustainable lifestyle changes. She and her family love to hike, bicycle, and try new sports.