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Are fitness apps worth the money?

Are fitness apps worth the money?

Spoiler alert: The answer is going to be, it depends! 

But please keep reading. Keeping track of your exercise and other wellness-related activities is a valuable endeavor in a healthy lifestyle, and this guide will help you decide if a fitness app is right for you.

Although lots of us have tried fitness apps -- almost 60% of us -- there’s not a lot of evidence that they help us much. One study showed that people who used fitness apps didn’t have any better fitness improvement than those who didn’t use them. That study also showed that people found the apps less useful the longer they used them.

However, most personal trainers and exercise physiologists think that there are many benefits to tracking your exercise in some format: In addition to motivation, an exercise log can clue you in to the causes of a nagging injury or fatigue. And while serious athletes may benefit from tracking their workouts the most, those of us who are exercising for general fitness can also reap some rewards. 

Exactly how you do it is up to you. An old-fashioned notebook or diary may be perfect for some, while others may benefit from a state-of-the-art watch that tracks your every movement and heartbeat. 

Likewise, you can choose exactly what to track. Some people may just want to write down how many minutes you exercised. Others will track intensity, duration, and how they felt. And data nerds might go even further and track sleep, blood pressure, blood glucose and calorie intake as well.

Many apps go beyond simply tracking what you do. Many offer video or audio workouts, diet and nutrition information, and the opportunity to connect with other users. And you definitely do not need to spend a lot of money on a fitness app. This review from Forbes Health ranks 10 apps based on price, workouts, and features. Their top tracking app is Burn.Fit, which costs $5.99 a month, but most of their recommendations have a free option. 

PC Magazine also recently ranked fitness apps from the best programs that track your run or bike ride (Strava) to the best free yoga classes (Yoga with Adriene) to the apps with the most energetic instructors (Peloton). 

If you’re looking for a nutrition-based app, make sure you revisit my reviews of Noom and WW. There are other options that aren’t all about dieting (Cronometer tracks nutrient goals while Am I Hungry and Ate focus on intuitive eating).

As for me, I’m pretty basic when it comes to these things.  I default to my iPhone's free Health app and check it on a daily basis.  It seems to do a pretty good job of tracking my steps and miles covered.  I make sure that my strength trainer keeps me informed as to where I was last time and where I am this time in terms of weight and reps.  I don’t note any of this information down anywhere – but it does NOT mean I’m not competitive!  I’m driven by seeing progress in terms of my strength program and I make sure to walk/run at least the equivalent of a 5k every day. 

To that end, I’ve also used Footpath – which helps me plan a route to make sure I cover my 5k when I’m out of town. And I have used Run with Hal as a guide to train for a 10 mile run I had attempted last fall (it worked!). 

But the apps are not the point.  Getting out and doing something is the point!  Whether you walk, run, bike, swim, dance, lift a few pounds, participate in yoga, or just balance on one foot while brushing your teeth – it all matters and it all adds up to better health.  And if getting active and pursuing exercise seems like a mountain to climb right now, know that you don’t have to get there all at once.  If you exercise for just 1 minute today and add a minute every day, in 2 months you’ll be exercising for 60 minutes per day – exactly the amount that would be recommended for better health and healthy longevity.  No apps required.

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