You don’t need apps to increase your health and fitness, but they can certainly help. With the right ones, you can boost your motivation, track your progress and add incentives to help you achieve your health goals.
5 Health and Fitness Apps Worth Downloading
1. MyFitnessPal (iOS, Android, cost: free)
MyFitnessPal is the best-known nutrition tracking app available today. If you want to make sure you’re effectively fueling your physical activity with proper nutrition, nothing beats tracking your food. You may discover patterns you didn’t know existed, and logging your food can help you to make better meal choices. One study found that people who tracked their food 6 days a week lost twice as much weight as those tracking only 1 day per week.
I use MyFitnessPal with all my nutrition coaching clients not only because the database of foods is comprehensive and it’s simple to use (you can even scan barcodes with your phone and the food item will automatically show up in your log!), but also because I can easily see my clients’ food logs without them having to send me anything. It’s easy to add friends on the app, and if your food log is set to “Viewable by friends” instead of the default “Private” setting, you’ll have the added accountability of others being able to see your logs.
Keep in mind that MyFitnessPal often grossly underestimates the calories we need to consume per day. I’d suggest using a more accurate calorie calculator (like the one found here), and manually adjusting your calorie goal in the MyFitnessPal app.
2. Interval Timer (iOS, Android, cost: free)
A staple for everyone from runners to boxers to gym-goers performing circuits, an interval timer is an absolute must.
Certain workouts require you to perform exercises for set periods of time, rather than for a set numbers of reps. For example, when my older clients are performing conditioning circuits at the gym, they perform an exercise for 30 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, then perform the next exercise for 30 seconds. For core training, my clients generally perform exercises for 45 seconds with 15 seconds of rest in between moves.
Instead of looking at a clock or using your phone’s timer (which you have to manually reset every round) to count both work time and rest time, use an app like Interval Timer. You’ll be able to choose your required intervals, and the timer sounds an alarm at your specified times. It repeats for your whole workout, and you won’t need to look at your phone.
3. Push-ups/Squats/Pull-ups by Runtastic (iOS, Andoid, cost: free)
Runtastic is a fitness app company that produces many different apps, including the original “Runtastic” app that tracks and maps your runs.
They’ve created a selection of unique apps specifically designed to help you improve fundamental strength movements like push-ups, squats and pull-ups. (They also have one for sit-ups, but I don’t recommend ever performing sit-ups because they can wreak havoc on your spine, especially if you have existing conditions like scoliosis, arthritis, osteoporosis or a herniated disc).
Using their push-up, squat pull-up apps, you’ll be taken through quick guided daily workouts with a set number of reps and pre-set rest times. Over a number of weeks, your total reps for your selected exercise will greatly increase. The apps include innovative ways of tracking your repetitions. For push-ups, you place your phone on the floor and touch the screen with your nose for every rep. For squats, you hold the phone in front of you, and for pull-ups, your phone counts repetitions from your pocket.
4. Streaks (iOS, cost: $4.99)
Streaks is a fantastic app that lets you track up to 12 habits you want to complete on a regular basis. Whether it’s lifting weights 3 days per week, meditating daily or going for a walk every weekday, set up your own customized goals and check them off in the app when they’re done.
The app can remind you when you need to complete a task, and you can even include “negative” tasks to help you break bad habits. It’s beautifully laid out and easy to review your data, including a simple calendar showing your performance for the month. See how long you can maintain a “streak” of completing your habit as often as you intended. If you miss your goal, your streak resets to zero.
5. stickK (iOS, Android, cost: free)
If you want to take habit-formation and goal-setting to the next level, the stickK app is for you. Launched by Yale professors Dean Karlan and Ian Ayres (experts in behavioral economics and contract law, respectively), stickK is a simple but brilliant concept. Decide whether you want to set up an ongoing contract (e.g., “Exercise 20 minutes every day”) or a one-shot contract (e.g. “Run my first 5K within 4 weeks”).
You then decide whether to put money on your goal, and where that money will go should you fail to achieve your goal. It can go to a charity, a “friend or foe” of your choosing or to an “anti-charity” you choose from a list (a cause you can’t stand).
So, whether your goal is to lose weight, practice push-ups four days a week, eat more greens or spend more time with your grandkids, creating commitment contracts like the ones in this app can greatly increase your rate of success.