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What's Up Magazine

At the Touch of Your Fingertips

Sep 23, 2013 11:10AM ● By Cate Reynolds

From counting calories to tracking runs to suggesting new workouts, apps are changing the way we approach health and fitness.

BY AMY MOELLER // PHOTOS BY TONY LEWIS, JR.

There’s an app for that. Believe it or not, that well-known phrase introducing Apple’s iPhone is almost five years old—and in technology years, that’s practically a millennium. Fortunately, the apps have gotten better with time and expanded well beyond games and movie show time listings. In fact, apps are changing the way we think about health and fitness—from how we diet to how we exercise, and even how we share that information with friends. Most of the time, we value technology for its application to make our lives easier—if not always simpler. But these days, the increase of fitness apps seems to be making us work harder—and healthier.

WHATEVER YOU WISH

Whether you want a calorie counter, a pedometer, an exercise how-to guide, or words of inspiration, there’s an app for it. How about custom workout plans? Or a map app to track your daily run? Boom. Done, done, and done. Your wish is the App Store’s command.

In 2011, MobiHealthNews.com, a “provider of news, commentary, online events and research for the global mobile health wristband to a waistband clip or even a piece that clips to your zipper.) We first noticed the FitBit device on staff photographer Tony Lewis, who reports being able to track his general activity throughout the day, and even when he sleeps! We can’t wait to compare the daily activity on his next fashion photo shoot to a day at the studio—we imagine the difference is impressive.

An earlier, popular version of these—one of the first to really catch on—was the Nike+iPod system that connected your iPod to a chip you clip into specially made Nike shoes, that would track distance, time, and other factors and transmit the information to the user’s iPod. Newer versions use the GPS technology in smartphones to get more accurate information—including distance, pace, calories burned, etc.—and the information is stored either in the phone or to a computer upon connection, or shared to social media sites and/or online communities.

In other areas of the technological space, fitness and health apps sans additional devices also are available. “Cardio” or running apps, like MapMyRun, rely solely on that GPS technology in phones, and health and diet apps like MyFitnessPal, rely on the user to log information manually—from workouts (you tell it the type and time, it will tell you the calories burned), and caloric intake (again, you input the type and portion, it will give you the nutritional values).

community,” estimated that there were more than 9,000 consumer health apps—more than 30 percent of which (3,000 apps) were cardio fitness apps (16.36 percent) and diet apps (14.15 percent)— and that’s just for the iPhone alone.

We have witnessed them being used at the gym and out and about, and have seen the updates shared on our social media networks. It seems that among these trendy commodities, everyone has a favorite—even at the What’s Up? office, where there’s a wide range of ages and fitness enthusiasm.

DIFFERENT STROKES, DIFFERENT FOLKS

Many of the apps require the purchase of other devices to wear and/or carry, such as the Nike+ app, which links to FuelBand, a black wristband reminiscent of the Livestrong type, and the FitBit app that links to your choice of wireless trackers (from another Establishing your fitness goals and determining what you want to track, and how you want to track it, will determine which kind of app is right for you.

HOW DOES IT HELP?

With most apps, you have the option of keeping the information private or sharing certain aspects with an online community— social media, such as Facebook, or a community of app users. MyFitnessPal, for example, allows you to connect with other MyFitnessPal users, and share updates on workouts and weight loss. (Actual weight isn’t shared, but loss updates are.) Tracking and sharing the information can motivate users to work harder to meet their goals. Logging that 400 calorie ice cream indulgence might encourage you to tack an extra 15 minutes on your daily fitness routine to burn it off.

“I’ve had MapMyRun on my phone for about a year and a half,” says Editorial Director James Houck. “It’s very cool to see exactly where and how far your walking/running route is, and there are a lot of other nifty features.” Calendar Editor Jake Russell uses the Nike+ Running app for iPhone—one of the Nike+ apps similar to MayMyRun that doesn’t require an additional device—for the same purpose. His app allows him to select a power song to push him the final stretch, and when the run is over, celebrities such a Tim Tebow filter through his headphones to congratulate him on a job well done. How’s that for inspiration? 

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Production Assistant Stephanie Jenkins uses both running apps. “The Nike+ Running App is wonderful,” she says. It keeps track of how many times you ran, the total mileage you’ve ran, your pace and many other things that help you run faster and further each time you go out for the run. I use it all the time. And MapMyRun uses a GPS to track where you run each time, and can show you maps of other running routes close by.”

Our resident bride and executive assistant Alexandra Bertrand has been using fitness apps—MapMyRun and Sworkit—on and off for about a year to get dress-ready for her wedding this month. Account Executives Kimberlee Jones and Terri Carta have been using MyFitnessPal regularly. Additionally, Kimberlee also uses an app called Spark People, and Account Executive Kris Granata uses one by celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels.

A quick Google search will turn up pages upon pages of “Top 10” lists, and a browse through the app store will show you which apps have the most satisfied users. That’s how Art Director August Schwartz found caloric-counting and food diary app MyNetDiary two years ago.

“I just looked around the app store for one that had all the features I wanted and also had great reviews…although there seem to be quite a few now that do the same thing,” he says. “I use it to track calories and learn how to balance my food intake, and also for weight management.”

One of the things he and I appreciate with our respective apps (I use MyFitnessPal), is the expansive large food database or catalogs, both on the mobile app and the respective websites. The database includes packaged foods, fresh produce, restaurant-specific guides, general information, and even recipe builders for cooking at home. Both apps—and likely many others, including the Weight Watchers app that their members use—feature a barcode scanner that allows you to simply scan packaged items to pull up all of their nutritional information. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

WHO ARE THEY FOR?

Based upon the response in just our office alone—where fitness apps users represent an array of ages, interest, and life stages—the demographic is wide.

According to a 2012 report published by Pew Research, 19 percent of smartphone owners have at least one health app on their phone. That’s one out of five! Less surprising is that the most popular uses are tracking exercise, diet, and weight. In fact, a whopping 38 percent of health app users track exercise, 31 percent monitor their diet, and 12 percent use one to manage their weight. (Other app purposes include tracking menstrual cycles, blood pressure, medication, etc.)

While there are apps designed specifically for fitness fanatics, some of the statistics surprised us. The first set, however, did not. Currently, according to app data services company Flurry, as reported by MobiHealthNews.com, “Millennials,” aged 25 to 34 years old, use fitness and health apps twice as much as the average of other age groups, and women use health and fitness apps 200 percent more than men. Twenty- and thirty-somethings representing the bulk of an app user group? Not exactly shocking, and yet, that range doesn’t even represent half of the app users in just our office.

We were more interested to learn that 26 percent of smartphone health app users are over 50, which means they must be resonating with Baby Boomers, too.

So which demographics are the largest? According to Pew, “Women, those under age 50, those better educated, and those with an annual household income of more than $75,000 are more likely to have downloaded a health app.”

SO WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

Well, it’s hard to say. There are probably too many factors (and certainly not enough current reports) to determine whether or not the increase in fitness apps is leading to a fitter population, but we certainly can’t rule it out. In Pew’s last study, it determined that 29 percent of smartphone health app users reported “significant health changes, such as gaining or losing a lot of weight, becoming pregnant, or quitting smoking.” Whether or not that relationship is causation or simply correlation remains to be seen—but it’s certainly worth considering.

It doesn’t seem—based on preliminary studies, at least—that app creation is slowing down.

In fact, ABI Research, “a market intelligence company that specializes in global technology markets,” predicts that the continued development of the linked devices—watches, wristbands, etc.—will propel the fitness GPS industry (that’s right—those wristbands and waist clips aren’t going anywhere, either) to a $2 billion industry, and the apps to a $400 million industry by 2016—with a predicted one billion annual downloads by then. That’s a lot of dough!

Editor’s Note: Although it’s being proposed, health and fitness apps aren’t yet regulated, or approved, by the FDA. Therefore, you should consult your physician—and do additional research—before adjusting to a regime of one. Don’t put all your health eggs in one app basket. While the distance recorded through a running app might be accurate, the estimated burned calories, your suggested caloric intake, and other predictions and recommendations, are based on a formula rather than a physical examination, so proceed with caution.