With over three-quarters of Americans owning a smartphone, many are using their phones to support their health and fitness goals. Globally, there are more than 259,000 health apps available. A 2015 study found that a little over half (58.23%) of mobile phone users in the United States had downloaded a health-related mobile app and a Pew Research report estimates that more than 3.4 billion smartphone users worldwide will be using at least some sort of health care app by the end of 2018. But can a mobile phone app really help your overall exercise habits, health, and wellness?
Why Should You Use Fitness or Health Apps?
Accessible & Convenient
Mobile phones and tablets have become ubiquitous in today’s tech-savvy times. Most people in the United States will have their mobile phone on them while they’re on the go. That simple fact—that our phones are nearly always with us—makes fitness and health apps an easy option for getting and staying healthy on the go.
Apps also lessen the excuse of “I don’t have time” to get fit or to keep track of health and wellness achievements, as again, the tools are right at your fingertips nearly all the time and you’re able to use them at any time of day, anywhere.
Easy to Use
Apps are typically designed with easy to understand and easy to navigate user interfaces. With a few questions up front, such as age, gender, weight, and inquiries about your various health goals, setting up fitness and health apps is relatively quick and painless.
Many fitness and health apps are available to download for free, making it an affordable way to invest in your health and wellness. Before paying for an app download, do your due diligence in researching and checking out the reviews. Some fitness apps are subscription based, meaning you can download the app for free, but to use it to its fullest capacity a monthly fee may be charged. Subscription based apps are quite common with personal training and exercise video apps, but it is a good deal, as most online personal trainers charge a lot less for online training than in-person sessions. Regardless of which direction you opt for, odds are high that you will pay substantially less on your fitness and health apps than you would otherwise.
Arguably one of the best features of fitness and health apps is that they’re motivating. Many apps provide online communities, virtual challenges, and push notifications reminding the user to “Keep it up!” and that “You’re doing great!” Some apps also have the option to earn badges for accomplishing your goals. These badges can be shared to the user’s social network, where they may receive even more motivation from their peers.
The online community aspect of some apps has shown to be particularly effective in driving the user’s successes. Studies have shown that role models, these people who display successful fitness behavior, can influence other people who are trying to be fit. This is what they call vicarious learning, which is when people learn to new behavior by being exposed to other people or media that display this behavior.
Selecting Health and Fitness Mobile Apps
When perusing your mobile app store for fitness, health, and wellness apps, the number of offerings is astonishing. From tracking nutritional intake to virtual personal trainers and menstrual cycle trackers, there are options available for everyone.
Before going on app overload, choose 1-3 areas you’d like to focus on using an app for. This will help you in narrowing down your search. For example, you may be interested in trying out a personal training program via an app, tracking your daily water intake, and monitoring your heart rate. You can find apps that tackle these items individually, but you may also find apps that combine all three of your interests in one single app. Read the “Types of Apps” section below for additional information on app options.
If you’re interested in using an app for fitness, health, and/or wellness support, recommendations from friends and family go a long way. Ask them to tell you why they use specific apps, what they’ve found most useful, what the user experience is like, any dislikes/challenges with the app, and any other questions you may have. When determining which app will best fit your needs, do your research and read the online reviews; couple that information with the recommendations you’ve received and you’ll be well on your way to choosing an app to assist you with your area of focus.
Types of Apps
As you’ve likely seen, fitness and health apps run the gamut. Below we’ve outlined a few wellness areas to start your focus on when using mobile apps for tracking and support.
While current smartphones don’t sleep with you, many offer add-on devices such as smartwatches and bands that allow sleep monitoring. The devices collect information on durations of deep sleep vs. restlessness, sleep start and end times, and more. Some sleep related apps also remind you when you go to bed, when to wake up, and may provide tools to help you fall asleep, such as soothing nature sounds and white noise.
Activity & Fitness Tracking
Most smartphones offer GPS and accelerometers (which track your movement) and many apps are geared towards using this data to track and report back on activity and fitness goals. Couple your smartphone with a smartwatch or fitness tracker band, and you’re also able to track exercise when your phone is not physically on you, track your heart rate, and beyond.
Exercise and personal training apps offer a variety of exercise programs and plans to help take the boredom out of workouts. Some apps provide pre-recorded workouts such as yoga or aerobics, while others connect you directly with a personal trainer and online community to develop a plan catered specifically to your fitness goals. Many of these apps cost less than monthly gym fees and sessions with personal trainers and workouts can be performed from nearly anywhere.
Apps provide a simple way to users to track their calorie intake, check ingredient labels, meal plan, and more. Some apps even assist with food allergy tracking and instilling healthy eating habits.
Meditation has been proven to help people decrease stress, reduce anxiety, improve sleep and generally aid in managing challenging situations. App stores offer a variety of meditation apps that focus on these areas and aim to improve the user’s overall wellness.
If you’re looking to get healthier, but don’t know where to start, Northwest Primary Care is here to support you. The expert practitioners at NWPC are happy to work with you in developing a plan that meets your health goals.