Smartphone apps that improve your health

By Sonja Bethune, Psy.D.

Excuses, excuses, excuses! I’m tired of hearing them. Aren’t you? We (yes, you and I) make excuses all the time as to why we don’t eat well-balanced meals or why we don’t exercise on a regular basis. Do any of these excuses sound familiar?

  1. I don’t have time to make a healthy meal, so I get fast food instead.
  2. It has to be fun before I will exercise and walking on the treadmill is not fun.
  3. I need someone there to push me, but I can’t afford a trainer.
  4. I’m depressed, and it feels better to eat things that are bad for me (i.e.comfort foods).
  5. It’s too hot to exercise or it’s too cold to exercise.
  6. The only time of the day that I can exercise is when the gym is too busy (waiting in line to use the equipment is not my cup of tea).
  7. I have too much school work to do to worry about my diet and activity level.
  8. I’m too tired.
  9. It takes too much time to prepare to go to the gym. I’ll plan better and go tomorrow (even though we know that won’t happen).
  10. There’s a Dunkin Donuts on my way to work, and I can’t control myself.

No matter what the excuse is, it’s not rational. Think about nutritious foods and exercise as your main life source. It should equate to your need for water to survive. If you don’t get your lifestyle in check now, you are literally taking years off your life.

With that in mind, I have given some thought on the best nutrition, exercise, and meditation apps that can help inspire you to make healthy lifestyle changes that last.

Focus on eating nutritious meals, not temporary diet trends!

“Been there, done that!” At least that’s what people say, when you ask if they have tried the latest fad in dieting. Ever tried the Ketogenic diet? I know I have, and I lost weight from it; however, it’s a difficult diet to maintain. You just put back on the weight as soon as you start eating carbohydrates again. What about the lemon juice detox? Yep, I’ve tried that too. The bad part is that you feel like you are starving. Well, that’s because you are. However, celebrities swear by it. One caveat is that they only engage in these harsh diet fads to lose weight short-term, like when they are preparing for an event. That’s simply not healthy. The truth of the matter is that diet fads don’t stick. How about trying the good old-fashioned way of just eating healthy? If you’re not quite sure how to eat properly, then let me introduce you to some smartphone apps I found. Note that each of these apps can be found through both iOS and Android systems.

Fooducate

At no cost, Fooducate can get you started on meeting your weight loss goals by analyzing your personal information (height, weight, age, and weight goal) and allowing you to scan nutrition panels of everything you buy at the store. You will learn what manufacturers don’t want you to see. If you want more perks out of this app, such as weekly health tips and guidance on what to eat with specific diet preferences (i.e. low-carb, Paleo, Gluten-free, etc.), then you will need to pay $7.99 a month or $39.96 for the year.

MyFitnessPal

The MyFitnessPal app is perfect for counting calories and tracking your fitness. It has one of the largest food databases (over 6 million foods) and has a barcode scanner, so you can scan any food packages. It allows you to customize exactly how much you are eating of one food item. For instance, if you eat half of a banana, you can tell it that you ate half and it will adjust the calorie count. It then tracks the percentage of main food groups you are consuming, such as carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Of course, if you want more features, you will have to pay either $9.99 a month or $49.99 per year. I have the free app and am able to get my needs met without paying. It also offers a free 30-day trial.

 

Short on time to exercise?

The #1 excuse for not exercising is, “I don’t have time.” I admit, I have used this excuse on occasion. But I challenge that thought with, “Everyone has at least 30 minutes of free time a day, so stop what you’re doing and make the next 30 minutes count!” Sometimes you have to do some self-talking to motivate yourself to get up and start moving. No one else is going to do it for you, right? To make it a bit easier, I found some apps with short workout intervals. No longer are the days in which you have to workout for an hour to reap the benefits.

7 Minute Workout

At no cost to you, the creators of the 7 Minute Workout app have put together 12 different exercises that equate to a total of 7 minutes long, hence the title. The claim is that this workout is equivalent to an hour of exercise. What’s the catch? Well, the exercises are considered high intensity (for 30 seconds), and you can only rest about 10 seconds in between sets. It is recommended, of course, that you do the circuit 2 – 3 times if your time permits. If you do end up getting bored with doing the same 12 exercises, then you can pay a little extra for workout bonuses. What’s cool about this app is that it motivates you with different levels of achievement. It’s almost like trying to win a game.

30 Day Fitness Challenge

This app is great because you can choose to start by your current activity level. For instance, I would put myself at a beginner level (easy plan), but if you exercise regularly, you can start with the medium or hard plan. There is no need for equipment; all you use is your own body weight. Another great feature is that you can choose specific parts of the body that you want to work on or you can choose a full-body work out. The time it takes to do the workout depends on you. For example, the first day of doing the easy plan, you just need to do 15 jumping jacks, 10 steps up onto a chair, 3 push-ups, 10 abdominal crunches, and a plank for 25 seconds. I’m thinking that this circuit would take about 10 minutes at most – maybe less. It even has an audio feature, which tells you when to take a rest, and detailed videos show you how to do each exercise accurately.

Sworkit

I’m not typically a huge fan of an app that doesn’t offer a free way to reap the benefits of exercising, but I found an app that is worth the extra money. Sworkit offers a huge database of different body weight exercises; therefore, you don’t need to go to the gym anymore if you have this app. It provides videos of real people doing the exercises, so you will know exactly what to do to achieve the results you want. You also can indicate how much time you have to exercise, and it will find the right workout exercises for you. Other great benefits of this app are that you have access to unlimited custom workouts as well as a trainer if you have specific questions. Also, you get access to the web app, so you can view the exercises on your computer screen if you desire. If you want to try it for free, you can sign up for their 30-day trial. Once the trial ends and you have not cancelled, you can choose to be billed $29.99 for 3 months (quarterly billing) or $79.99 for the year, which only equates to about $7 a month. With everything that this app has to offer, you really can’t beat that when a gym membership can cost $50 a month.

 

How about Zen time?

young african american woman meditating in nature with eyes closedWe’ve all been there. As soon as you walk in the door after a stressful day at work, you feel like collapsing on the couch and staying there the rest of the evening. The thought of even lifting a finger seems exhausting. So, for those moments in which you are depleted of every ounce of energy in your bones, try a meditation smartphone app.

Headspace

The Headspace app is one that I recommend to my depressed and highly anxious clients. They seem to love it, and I think you will too. Since time is of the essence, you only need to take a few minutes out of your day to use the classic meditation techniques that this app guides you through. What I do is put my headphones on (don’t want any outside noises distracting me) and start a meditation exercise before I go to bed. With guided imagery, you will feel the stress just melt away.  The free version gives you access to a few meditation exercises, but if you want to get access to hundreds of guided meditations, you have to pay $9.99 a month or $94.99 for the year.

Insight Timer

Insight Timer is Time Magazine’s Apps of the Year winner and is claimed to be the #1 free meditation app. What makes this app so amazing is that you get access to thousands of guided meditations, and 10 or more new ones are added on a daily basis. Going with the theme of not having much time, you can select a short meditation exercise. This app will surely decrease your level of stress and anxiety. If you struggle with falling asleep, it can assist in improving your sleep quality.

 

Of course, there are millions of apps that help assist individuals with achieving their fitness goals and mental clarity, but these are just some of the few that I personally enjoy. Just remember to drink plenty of water on a daily basis. Dehydration can cause lethargy, thereby preventing you from gaining the necessary energy to cook the right foods and engage in high-intensity workouts. Keep in mind that it’s never too late to reverse years of bad habits. You just need to do it!

 

7 minute workout. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.popularapp.sevenmins&hl=en_US

30 day fitness challenge – Workout at home. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.popularapp.thirtydayfitnesschallenge&hl=en_US

Fooducate – nutrition tracker. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/fooducate-nutrition-tracker/id398436747?mt=8

Headspace: Meditation & mindfulness. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.getsomeheadspace.android&hl=en_US

Insight timer – Free meditation app. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.spotlightsix.zentimerlite2

MyFitnessPal. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/myfitnesspal/id341232718?mt=8

Sworkit. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=sworkitapp.sworkit.com&hl=en_US

Shnaiden, T. (2016, November 16). Building a roadmap to healthy lifestyles [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://healthfitness.com/blog/building-a-roadmap-to-healthy-lifestyles/

Android fitness apps. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://play.google.com/store/search?q=fitness+apps&c=apps

Apple (iOS) fitness apps. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://itunes.apple.com/us/genre/ios-health-fitness/id6013?mt=8