Bigger than Biceps: Tracking health and fitness progress with technology
When the hustle and bustle of life gets in the way of your health and happiness, there's hope that technology can make it easier. We already rely on smartphones, tablets, computers, smart TVs and everything else with the word "smart" in front of it to handle the basics of life, such as budgets, grocery lists, reminders, and music to match our mood. The one thing we forget is how health and fitness applications can help us stay on track and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
I'd like to rate a few health apps that I've had experience with. As a gym junkie, macronutrient counter, and Fitbit user, I may be slightly biased. I also have an iPhone, so I apologize to Droid users.
My favorite fitness app is MyFitnessPal. You can track food intake by manual input and or by scanning a barcode. You can also track workouts, which then manipulates your calorie consumption. For example, if I need 1,600 calories a day and I burn 300 on a run, I now have 1,900 to consume. However, if I'm trying to lose weight, I don't want to reward myself with a 300 calorie donut, but maybe a 100 to 200 calorie snack to refuel my body. You can also view the break down of nutrition, including macronutrients, protein, carbohydrates and fat, and the percentage of each one. Typically, your fat should be low, and the other two balanced out. By checking on this throughout the day, you can plan future meals accordingly. Maybe breakfast was high in carbs so you'll leave out bread when eating a burger for lunch. It also breaks down the other nutrients in food.
The downside for me, personally, is when I'm letting loose on the weekends, I neglect to log food from restaurants or barbecues. Which isn't horrible every once and a while. But, by estimating consumption, you can have a ball park idea of what you ate. If your exact meal isn't in the directory, chances are someone else has established it and you can base it off that. My most recent pet peeve with it is that it partnered with Under Armour and now costs $10 per month if you want to personalize macros or other settings. Ten dollars is ludicrous to me when I can alternatively do all the work with pen and paper. Otherwise, it's free. Nonetheless, it's a great start for people who want to face fears about how much they're really eating, or how to read nutrition fact labels.
Next up is the Fitbit tracker app. It tracks my sleeping patterns, footsteps, water intake, and other physical activities. The app itself is free, but with the hefty price of a bracelet tracker, the cheapest is around $90. You can use the app without the tracker, but can only insert food consumption, activities and weight statistics. There are also other makes of fitness trackers that come with apps. I can set silent alarms to wake me up in the morning, alerts to tell me when to go to bed and I can create challenges with other people to compete in getting the most steps. It becomes obsessive, but only has good impacts on your health.
I've also heard about Move. It's an app that tracks your steps as long as you have your phone on you all day long. I used to use it before I received my Fitbit as a gift, but found that I wasn't able to keep my phone on me all day. With an iPhone 6 Plus, fitting a mini computer into tiny jean pockets, just doesn't work. This may be more suitable for males, depending on the occupation.
For personal training or exercises, I've used Workout Trainer and Sworkit (Simply Work It). Both have exercise programs to follow and ways to log them. Active.com suggests PEAR's personal coach, FitStar, ACTIVEx, Pocket Yoga, and DietBet. I don't have experience with these apps because I tend to follow fitness people on Instagram and get exercise tips that way, however, with the abundance of basic version apps, it doesn't hurt to shop around to find one an app that best suits you. It's also a good idea to gather a handful of exercises and develop your own program.
To time tabata workouts, I've used Gymboss or Tabata. These help because when I'm alone, it's harder to push myself and if I'm just counting repetitions, I tend to give up quicker. With these, you can set it to how many sets you want and without continuously setting it, it will program in rests and beep loudly at the start and end of each set.
There are other apps out there to help with meditation, breathing, getting to sleep and plenty other lifestyle assistance programs. Some 'couch to 5k' apps are good for beginners as well.
The way you keep up with other things in life is the way you should with health and fitness, habitually and without thinking about it. Growing up, if you marked your height on the wall somewhere in the house, you could see how tall you got over time. You check a savings account to see how much you save over time. These are practical things in life that need attention and your health should be treated the same. Technology is just making it much more convenient.
—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.
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