Using Technology to Motivate Fitness: 5 Apps to Try

Using mobile apps can turn resolutions into habits

Posted Jan 09, 2015

Does the first of the year motivate you to think about your mental and physical health? The holidays, with all the extra demands on my schedule and extra calories on my plate, are over. I always resolve to have better life-work balance and try to integrate a little more self-care. I have long since given up joining a gym that I won’t attend. At least age brings some wisdom. I do, however, look for ways to make fitness more fun to trick myself into a behavior long enough for it to become a habit.  New running shoes are good, but as motivators they don’t have the staying power to develop new behaviors. I have found some mobile apps that are doing the trick for me: Couch to 5K, Zombies, Run, 7 Minute Fitness Challenge, Audible, and Headspace. They’re easy and portable. Maybe they’ll work for you as well. None of them are free, but compared to the cost of gyms and monthly membership fees, investing in a few apps is a clear bargain. Here's why I like them.

I used to think of myself as a runner. Now granted, real runners would snigger at what I called running—both for speed and duration—but it was running to me. In the last few years for one reason or another, I’ve totally gotten out of the habit. I’m not willing to let go of that bit of my identity, however, so I have begun using the app Couch to 5K by Active Network LLC ($1.99). Getting back into running is a gradual process. Walk some, run some, slowing shifting the walk portions into run (or jog) portions. This app provides a voice cue—with your choice of voices—that works with your existing playlist. The app only asks for you to show up three times a week. I actually find myself looking forward to logging another workout. Nothing like proof of progress! It takes 30 minutes, which is just the amount I can convince myself I can spare with the looming work pile on my desk. 

On days when I’m in need of adventure (often as a form of procrastination), I use Zombies, Run by Six to Start. This app is all about the power of story as a motivator. You are the hero, running from Zombies in a post apocalyptic world, all in the convenience of your own playlist. Through voice cues, it combines your walk or run with a gamified story that has you collecting supplies like bandages and medicine to contribute to the safety of your Township against the zombies as you cover ground. It definitely motivates you to pick up your pace when you’re told that zombies are right behind you—even on a treadmill. While there are in-app purchases for extras, you get plenty of entertainment for your initial investment of $3.99, and how long you run from Zombies is entirely up to you.

I can rationalize that seven minutes won’t make that big a difference to my to-do list hence my success with the 7 Minute Workout Challenge by Fitness Guide Inc. The app delivers voice cues as it takes you through a series of simple exercises—the ones we all know, like jumping jacks, wall-sits and push-ups—in seven minutes. Honest. Just seven. You can set the preference for longer (or shorter), or you can do multiple circuits. No thanks—I can just handle the seven minutes. About the time I’m emotionally ready to throw in the towel, I’ve actually completed the workout. Total cost is $1.99. More exercise packs are available for more variety, but you can earn, rather than buy them, by just using the app regularly for a couple of weeks.

Finally, back in the work-life balance column, I am enjoying Headspace. We all know that mindfulness can reap great benefits, but I am not a natural when it comes to meditation. However, like the 7 Minute Workout Challenge, Headspace chunks the process down into manageable time bites that even the most ardent workaholics among us can justify. It also has a beautifully designed user interface if you care about stuff like that. You can sign up and get 10 free mini-guided medication sessions.

There are lots of good apps out there. These are just the five I’m currently using with success. If you have suggestions about what works for you, I’d love to hear.