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Apps Can Help You Track Health & Fitness Progress

Apps Can Help You Track Health & Fitness Progress

Annie Getsinger, Herald & Review, Decatur, Ill.

There's an app for just about everything.

People can now identify songs, edit photos, check the weather and even use virtual dog whistles with a simple swipe of their smartphone touchscreens.

But these high-tech phones don't just provide sedentary fun. There are even apps aimed at helping people get in shape, and their features range from nutrition information databases to activity and food journaling, GPS-powered run, hike and ride mapping and interactive running games.

Samantha Blankenship and Jeff Rounds, fitness center supervisors at the Decatur Indoor Sports Center, said mobile device fitness apps can be powerful tools to help keep people accountable and moving steadily toward their individual wellness goals. Fitness tracking programs can help people find out how far and fast they're going and equip them with the information to be a little more precise with their fitness goals, they said.

Blankenship said she uses the MyFitnessPal mobile app, a food and activity journaling program, which counts among its features the ability to peruse a large database of restaurant dishes, generic foods and fitness activities, seeing their impact on daily caloric goals instantly. The app comes up with a daily calorie intake based on a person's weight, activity level, weight loss or maintenance goals and other factors and allows users to input their food choices and fitness activities as they go about their days.

"It will tell you if you're under or over your calories for the day," Blankenship said, adding that the app also helps to break down other important nutrition information such as fat, sodium and other data.

Having the program at one's fingertips on a cell phone eliminates several excuses sometimes associated with not completing food journaling. It provides constant access to the information and the ability to see in real time how one's choices can affect his or her overall goals.

"Who forgets their cell phone? No one forgets their cell phone," said Blankenship, adding that the journaling process takes only a few seconds. She said she has been using the app to keep herself on track during her pregnancy.

The information also ends up in the user's profile on the program's website and can also be accessed or entered via computer.

An app shouldn't take the place of a workout buddy or a fitness or health professional, but used in conjunction with the right resources, it can make a difference, Rounds said. "It can help you, and it can be a great tool," he said, but a person still has to have the motivation to turn the phone on and engage with the program.

He encouraged those starting a new workout regimen to do so under the direction of a physician.

Blankenship said those undertaking new wellness habits shouldn't get discouraged if they don't see results right away. It usually takes four to six weeks to see any physical changes, she said.

Having a program to keep a record of one's smaller accomplishments such as working out a certain number of times a week, staying within one's calorie goals or increasing the pace on that next run or walk can be a helpful way to see that every healthy choice is a step toward the desired progress.

The information contained within and logged by an app can be a good guide, but it is not always an exact record, Rounds said. It helps to be as honest as possible when entering one's information, they said.

Rounds said he hasn't tried any fitness apps himself, but he recently got a new smartphone and anticipates giving some of them a try. He advised others looking for programs to shop around and ask friends about which ones they like.

"I think it might be a good idea to try a few different apps," he said. Local users reported using a variety of running, walking, hiking, bicycling and journaling programs.

Angie Cyrulik, 34, of Mount Pulaski, uses the Nike + Running app, a free program created by Nike, on her iPhone.

"It allows you to track," she said, adding that with the program, she is able to keep a record of her calories burned, pace, mileage and other statistics from her runs. She began using the program three years ago when she got her iPhone.

"I really wanted a way that I could find out how fast I was running and keep track of that," she said, adding that it provides a way to keep motivated.

Cyrulik used a different run tracker app, but she didn't like the voice that would chime in through her headphones and announce her progress during her workouts.

She described herself as a casual runner, completing about three runs each week for a total of 15 miles. She hopes to keep training and one day complete a half marathon. Seeing her pace improve is an important part of pursuing this goal, she said. She also has been getting into bicycling and uses the MapMyRIDE app to track her bicycling routes and accomplishments in a similar fashion.

Cyrulik said she restarts the mileage counter on the app every year to keep track of how many miles she has completed.

She also uses a setting that posts the start of her run to her Facebook page. When friends click "like" on the post, the app supplies a cheering sound through her headphones -- a nifty motivator as she runs.

"I find it to be a good tool to help me stay motivated," she said. The busy mom to an 8-year-old and 3-year-old triplets said she enjoys running races with her dad, but they can't always train together. Instead, they keep up with each other's training efforts by using a special feature on the app.

"There is a Nike challenge feature, where you can challenge someone else who has the Nike app," said Cyrulik.

She and her father engage in a little friendly competition between the times that they get to run together.

The app also allows her to challenge herself, she said, adding that comparing one's own workouts is a good way to stay motivated and maintain some type of personal accountability.

Cyrulik said the app also informs her how long she has gone between runs. "And sometimes it's not nice," she said.

Fitness apps
Nike + Running: As you run, track your progress by logging time, calories burned, distance, pace, route and more with this free app, available for Android and iPhone. Share your goals and accomplishments via social networking sites, and let your friends help you get motivated.
MyFitnessPal: The MyFitnessPal mobile app is an easy way to keep up with food and activity journaling and keeps track of your calories as you go. The free app, available for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, iPad and Windows Phone, works with the MyFitnessPal website to give users access to a full database of foods with nutrition information, and exercises and activities.

Zombies, Run!: Run fast enough and you can escape the shuffling undead horde while you gather supplies and complete missions to assist the other survivors in the midst of the zombie apocalypse. This app, available for iPhone, iPod Touch, Android and Windows Phone, keeps users entertained while tracking their pace and progress -- and throwing in some zombie chases for good measure.

iMapMy: A mobile fitness app created by the people behind the MapMyFITNESS sites. The app, available for iPhone, BlackBerry and Android, offers route tracking, a training log, social networking capabilities and the ability to store and share workout information on MapMyRUN, MapMyRIDE and others.|421-6968 ©2012 the Herald & Review (Decatur, Ill.)
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