Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen, University of Utah
Approximately 86% of Americans own a smartphone. Although many of us might primarily use our phones to watch videos while we are sitting on the couch, if you’re on a kick to get healthy, it’s always good to remember that you can use your smartphone as a tool to track and encourage your drive towards better health. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, eat healthier, or exercise more, there are a number of apps that can help you toward your goals.
Often, one of the first recommendations for either losing weight or changing your diet is to start to track what you’re eating with a food diary. The idea of a food diary is simple–write down everything (no cheating!) that you have eaten or had to drink. This can help you identify good and bad habits and see what changes need to be made. Of course, you can do this the classic way by carrying around a small notebook and writing everything down, but now there are so many apps that can make keeping a food diary so much easier. With databases of different food products that will give you the calorie count in seconds and analytics that give you information about what you’re eating, these apps have a huge advantage over their analog counterparts. There is a range of different apps that can track different types of diet and also include coaching or a user community to help you feel more motivated and less alone.
And don’t forget that water bottle! For many of us, it’s not uncommon for a whole day to go by and suddenly you realize that you’ve barely had anything to drink. There’s an app for that! Many of these apps will remind you to drink more by customizing a drinking schedule based on details like the weather in your area or your wake-up time. While some of the food tracking apps will also track liquid intake, these apps will give you notifications throughout the day and will usually have a cute and engaging interface that is more motivating.
As well as tracking food and water, you can, of course, track exercise. With well over 1000 exercise apps on the market today, there are many different options. Research has found that people who use exercise apps are more likely to exercise during leisure time. Many exercise apps will add an element of competition that can motivate users and allow them to see improvements over time–whether that’s being able to run farther or faster or do more exercise repetitions. The kinds of exercise apps that are out there range from giving you a customized workout to tracking your running, cycling, or swimming.
But what about those of us who just don’t know where to start? There are also exercise apps that are specially made to help get you started exercising. Whether it’s “Couch to 5k” or “Zombies, Run!,” these apps will help build up your skills, starting with shorter workouts and building up over time. Zombies, Run! is touted as an especially fun option; an immersive story app, it allows you to simulate running in an apocalyptic world where you are escaping zombies! After the success of Zombies, Run!, the company that built the app created “The Walk” with the NHS and UK Department of Health to also encourage walking–taking the concept of a standard step counter and turning it into an adventure.
Another classic way that your smartphone can be used in your health journey is as an entertainment device during exercise. It’s been shown that listening to music while working out can make strenuous activity seem easier and less burdensome. Some people also listen to a podcast or an audiobook as a motivational tool to get themselves moving.
When it comes to using music to help you work out, Grammy award winning artist Imogen Heap has taken this idea to a new level with an app she’s in the process of developing with Intel. It builds a music track using the ambient news from your surroundings and then matches it to your running tempo so it’s almost as if you’re running to your own soundtrack!
Ultimately, when it comes to a healthy lifestyle change, making the most of our smartphones is an opportunity too easy to miss–after all, they are almost always with us. So whether you want to track what you’re eating, track your steps, or fit in a quick workout, use your phone to encourage and promote these decisions!
- Litman L, Rosen Z, Spierer D, Weinberger-Litman S, Goldschein A, Robinson J. Mobile Exercise Apps and Increased Leisure Time Exercise Activity: A Moderated Mediation Analysis of the Role of Self-Efficacy and Barriers, J Med Internet Res 2015;17(8):e195, URL: https://www.jmir.org/2015/8/e195, DOI: 10.2196/jmir.4142, PMID: 26276227, PMCID: 4642397
- Making music reduces perceived exertion, Thomas Hans Fritz, Samyogita Hardikar, Matthias Demoucron, Margot Niessen, Michiel Demey, Olivier Giot, Yongming Li, John-Dylan Haynes, Arno Villringer, Marc Leman, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Oct 2013, 110 (44) 17784-17789; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1217252110