HEALTH APPS PROVEN TO IMPROVE FITNESS AND DIET
If you’re in the habit of checking your phone regularly, take note: It could actually improve your health, if you start using the right apps.
A new review of research on technology, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found that people who take advantage of support and programs on their smartphones or the internet are more likely to eat better, exercise more, and engage in other behaviours linked to health and longevity.
“Here we have the convenience of all these apps so you can exercise or you can eat healthier or quit smoking,” says Martha Daviglus, MD, PhD, a spokesperson for the American Heart Association, who was not involved in the study. And even if the change isn’t pronounced, “it’s better to lose a few pounds than to lose none or to even increase your weight,” Dr. Daviglus adds.
The authors of the new review paper evaluated more than 200 studies that had looked at the effect of different technologies on diet, exercise, weight, and tobacco and alcohol consumption. All of these factors play an enormous role in our risk for many diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, conditions which are almost as widespread today as cell phones. Overall, technology—new or old—had a positive effect on behaviours that influence health.
Programs that proved most effective were those that incorporated goal setting and self-monitoring (such as recording how much you ate or weighed), and those that involved multiple forms of communication (like personal counselling and texts) and which carried individualised messages. One such program, which increased weekly physical activity by 153 minutes a week, for instance, sent customised motivational messages.
Most of the studies were very short-term, making it hard to know if they would be effective over the long time periods usually needed to make serious lifestyle changes. These days, though, there’s likely to be an app to motivate you whoever you are. “With the new technology today, you cannot believe the things that we can do,” says Dr. Daviglus.
Look for programs that urge you to set goals, are tailored to who you are, and which make you accountable for your behaviour by recording what you eat or how many steps you take. It’s worth asking your doctor for recommendations, too. They may be able to suggest apps that work best for your health needs.
Our Top Three Apps
MY FITNESS PAL
MyFitnessPal is the most popular health and fitness appS in the world, and it’s easy to see why. The app’s database of more than 6 million foods makes it easy to track your diet, no matter what you eat. Whether you’re trying to lose weight or put on muscle, the app helps determine the best things to eat to meet your goals. (Free with optional in-app purchases; iOS and Android)
COUCH TO 5K
If you’ve wanted to try running but never known where to start, Couch to 5K should be the next app you download. The free eight-week program gives users three workouts per week that get you ready for your local Turkey Trot or Fourth of July road race. (Free; iOS and Android).
If you’re a serious runner or cyclist, you need one place to keep track of your most recent runs and rides, and no app comes close to the capabilities offered by Strava. The app can track distance, speed, elevation, calories burned, heart rate, power, and cadence. Then it synthesises all of this data into easy-to-understand graphics. (Free with optional in-app purchases; iOS and Android)
NIKE+ TRAINING CLUB
Nike+ Training Club comes with all the things you’d expect from a top-notch fitness app: workouts designed by professional trainers and athletes, customisable fitness programs, sharing capabilities to compare your progress with others, and a totally sleek interface. And in Nike fashion, it just does it better than the competition. (Free; iOS and Android)