Which fitness app to use? Readers weigh in

July 6, 2015

There was once a time ó really, truly, and not all that long ago ó when people merely exercised. They didnít wear watches. They didnít wear heart-rate monitors. They didnít record every move. Phones were for conversations and tended to stay attached to a wall at home.

If you exercise these days, though, chances are pretty good you track it in some way. And a main way is through apps: The website digitaltrends.com estimates that 100,000 are dedicated to health and fitness and that globally the market is worth about $4 billion.

Lists abound about which apps are most popular, or best for monitoring calorie intake and exercise output; which are easy to understand, and which take more time to calculate than you may exercise in a week.

But those are just lists. What do real people get from their app-focused health routines? We found some aficionados, and asked them to explain how they found an approach that clicked with them.

ĎI like having information.í

Name: Stan Eigenbrodt, 49

Number of apps used: At least six

Favorites: Lose It! and Runkeeper

Primary activity: Weight training and running

"Iím sort of a tech person," says Eigenbrodt, an attorney who lives in Plano, Tex. "I like playing around with my iPhone. I like having information. I just got a Polar Beat wireless heart-rate monitor, which has a Polar app and talks to Runkeeper. Now when Iím running, I can do so from a metabolic standpoint."

He continues:

"If I run with Runkeeper, it takes the calories it thinks I burned to Lose It! It also tracks my steps in Fitbit. If it thinks the calorie count is more accurate than the algorithm, it takes those. If I have two entries, one from Runkeeper and one from Fitbit, it deletes one, so I donít end up eating too many calories.

"I wear the monitor when I work out. When I work out with my trainer, I donít use Runkeeper. I use the Polar app for that. Now I use the Polar app with Runkeeper so I can look at the overall report on Polar to see how it changes. Iím a data guy like that. I like to look at all those and see whatís going on."

Eigenbrodt started out with Lose It!, an app which, at its most basic, tracks food intake. He liked the app, its information and most especially the discipline it has taught him.

"I can out eat any workout," he says. "In a lot of office environments and certainly this one, almost every day someone is having a birthday and thereís cake or muffins. If Iím not writing down what I eat, itís easy not to think about it and to just eat."

Recently, he wrote in an email: "I finally got my Apple Watch. It has some apps that work well with the Apple Health app, and Runkeeper has an Apple Watch app, but I have to say itís too soon for me to know if the watch is going to be transformative."

ĎI wanted to see everything.í

Name: Bree Redwine, 51

Number of apps used: Three

Favorite: My Fitness Pal

Primary activity: Running and weight training

"The reason I chose those I did is that they worked best for me," says Redwine. "I looked at others. I downloaded them. I got so frustrated."

Redwine has four children. She works full time at Lukeís Locker sportswear store. She works out every day. Ease is imperative.

"I did start out using more," she says. "I then just really looked at what I needed for my life and lifestyle and realized I needed something quick and practical and efficient."

My Fitness Pal was her first app. Then she bought a Garmin Vivosmart fitness band and, she says, "my world opened up." The apps connect; she records everything she eats and drinks as well as her weekly weight. The watch monitors her heart rate, her movement, her sleep patterns.

"Iím a weird person," she says. "I wanted to see everything."

Knowing her stats has improved the way she eats and trains, she says.

"Itís almost like Big Brother is watching you. When I see that, I tend to do better."

Sheís also joined an online community with which "you can talk to, share ideas with, share struggles," she says. "You get recognition in the community of Garmin or My Fitness Pal and little trophies and badges, which is fun. Youíre always notified when you surpass certain goals, which gives that extra inspiration."

Her latest app is Pact, which pays you for meeting your goal and charges your bank account when you donít. She also now has an Apple Watch.

"The heart rate monitor rocks!" she writes in an email. "I like it oh so much."

ĎI donít want to be fined.í

Name: Dan Gray, 45

Number of apps used: At least a dozen

Favorite: My Fitness Pal

Primary activity: Running

"I was one of those guys growing up who was picked last for the kickball team," he says. "I discovered running about five years ago."

But while training for a marathon, he was surprised to be gaining weight.

"Thatís when I realized I must be doing something wrong, but couldnít put my finger on it," he says.

He asked a running friend who had lost a lot of weight how he did it. The answer changed Grayís life:

My Fitness Pal.

"Anyone Iím friends with can see what I eat," he says. "By putting in what I eat as Iím eating it, I found myself making small calibrations in order to get under my calorie limit. Once I started developing good eating habits, I started layering on other things, like tracking the exercise."

He does that with several apps; among them Pact.

"Iíve been using it about a year," says Gray, who works in the health care industry. "They take My Fitness Pal and other apps one step further."

He set up Pact by committing, for example, to how often and how long heíll exercise, how many times heíll log his food, how many fruits and vegetables heíll eat. If My Fitness Pal and his other apps sync up and show heís not following through, heíll be fined either $5 or $10. If he does, he receives $1 to $1.50 a week.

"What Iíve found, man, is that I will really work a lot to get that dollar or dollar-fifty a week," he says. "I donít want to be fined."

So far, he hasnít been. Granted, recording his food, his workouts, his weight, his blood pressure ó and, because heís diabetic, his blood-sugar readings ó on apps has taken a little getting used to, but itís worth the effort, he says.

"Anything new is hard, just like running is hard," he says. "I think thatís the mind-set you have to have. Any time you try something new, and maybe even the first 10 times, you wonít be good at it.

"You just have to attack it as ĎIím learning another habit.í"



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