How to turn your phone into a fitness tracker
25 May 2016
Don't want another expensive fitness product gathering dust and cluttering up your place? Check out these healthy alternatives to your fitness woes.
I don't know about you but I'm not a fan of working out. I know it's necessary for maintaining a healthy body, I also know that I like pizza and wine. So when given the choice I want fitness to be simple and enjoyable. And what's simpler than transforming your mobile phone into a health hub, a fitness friend, or a monitoring mentor – simply by using a range of free or inexpensive apps.
We'll get to those in a minute, but for now, let's check out what some of the gurus and researchers have to say about fitness tracking overall.
The research is in… sort of
But to explain "the why" more generally, we can check in with The University of Wisconsin–Madison. They conducted a study with a group of women, half of whom were given Fitbits, and the other half, a standard pedometer which counts each step a person takes. The difference was striking. It turns out the Fitbit wearers loved using the app to monitor their progress, and after a month, had increased their moderate-to-vigorous physical activity by an hour a week. The researchers claimed the key ingredients were, "self-monitoring, setting goals, getting frequent feedback on your progress, revising goals as needed, social support and developing a sense of self-efficacy."
The good news is you can use a mobile app for much of that.
So, when it comes to technology's new influence on our health and fitness, a big part of the appeal is the novelty of it all. We suddenly have a continual data cycle that gives us real-time goals or games that relate to our approach to sleep, nutrition and exercise, fascinating and rewarding us with heart rate patterns and continually new data insights.
As Lisa Cadmus-Bertram of the University of Wisconsin–Madison says, the evidence now supports the promotion of physical fitness via technology, as "it can help people to become more aware of their actual activity level and to live a healthier lifestyle."
OK, there it is in black and white.
Or is it? A study from Lancaster University tells us there is "no empirical evidence" that devices which monitor movement and heart rate have a long-term effect on wellbeing. They say a third of people who buy the fitness gadgets give up on wearing them after six months, and half do after a year. Oops.
What does it all mean?
I think there is one definite insight we can take from the experts. Our friends from Lancaster did confirm something really important. They say fitness levels really pick up at the beginning of a person's use of devices and apps. So that means it's the longevity of the commitment which makes all the difference.
And when you think about that, this perseverance makes perfect sense as something we can apply to most things we really want to achieve in life. And perseverance is free!
What about accuracy?
It's also the case – so far at least – that fitness trackers (and mobile apps too) are not necessarily always exact. Sure, they're not built to be medically accurate devices, but it turns out they tend to think we sleep more than we actually do, and they also underestimate how far we walk.
That's why it's smart to take the wave of tech-fuelled health and fitness with a grain of salt, and then use it to your advantage.
One option as mentioned is forking out money for a specific wearable fitness tracker. But what if you just want to use your existing mobile for a similar purpose? Not everyone agrees with their findings, but in a 2015 study, the Journal of the American Medical Association says, "We found that smartphone apps are just as accurate as wearable devices for tracking physical activity."
Hooray for that. So with this in mind, here's a round-up of some of the best apps out there for your mobile, and what aspect of your fitness they monitor.
Fitness apps for your mobile phone
Free for Android and Apple users, MyFitnessPal is a mobile app and website that helps you track what and how much you eat, plus how many calories you burn through activity. It's simple and effective, so gets a big tick.
The Jawbone Up app is also free for iOS, Android and Windows Phone users. While you do need a Jawbone fitness device for the sleep tracking part, via this app, the rest all works great including tracking activities like steps, distance and calories burned. The Fitbit app is exactly the same – and being a big name-brand in this space – you most likely know someone using the app already. That means competing online with friends and family will help keep you motivated to walk that extra mile.
Argus is a one-stop shop for tracking activities, workouts, weight and sleep. You can also add goals for caloric intake, water consumption, sleep, walking and weight. There's no need for a fitness tracker, all of this is done on your iPhone or Android device. It can even measure your heart rate using the flash on your camera, which is clever.
On the running and cycling side of life, a popular option is Strava. Free to download plus available in a premium version for approx $9 per month, Strava gets the competitive juices flowing, letting runners and bicyclists compete against themselves or others to beat the best times on a leaderboard.
Also free and available on Android and iOS is Charity Miles. With this app, you can run, cycle or walk your way to good karma, as corporate sponsors agree to donate a few cents for every kilometre you complete.
Last but not least is Endomondo which tracks your runs, bike rides, and other outdoor activities with good accuracy and a simple interface. It's available free via Android and Apple, but the premium version at $29 per year does boost the experience via training plans and coaching features.
Ultimately, the best fitness apps let you set your own goals and maintain a pace that's right for you. Without costing the earth, they keep you motivated for becoming the version of yourself you want to be.
If we've missed any of the main mobile only apps available, let us know in the comments below, we'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading and good luck out there!
Mariah – amaysim's content gal