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Can your phone help keep those resolutions? Health tech expert on best fitness apps

While it might not quite be time to tell your trainer you’ve decided that ‘PT’ now stands for past-tense, that day will come, writes Yvonne Redmond.

Yvonne Redmond Health and medical technology expert

NEW YEAR, NEW you. Right? For almost half of people surveyed in the US by YouGov, ‘losing weight/getting in shape’ was top of their resolution list at the start of this year.

But unless you’re an already established gym bunny, or blessed with a metabolism which would mystify most medics, it’s a resolution you’ve probably broken at least once.

So how can you make it stick for 2018? It’s a question even the creators of some of the world’s best health and fitness apps have struggled with. “Health is simple; eat well, exercise, sleep,” according to Marcus Gners, founder of health app, Lifesum.

At HealthConf, Web Summit’s health technology event held November last, he and other industry experts debated where to next for their apps: “[Fitness] is theoretically simple but very hard to influence… How do you drive motivation over time while compensating for the fact people are human?”

It’s tempting, as Irish cynics, to simply say: “Well if you don’t know, how would I?” but the fact is; no one does. “No one has really cracked yet how to do that,” Mette Lykke says; she’s the Danish founder of Endomondo, a health and fitness app so popular, it was acquired by sports giant Under Armour two years ago for more than €70 million.

But it too had problems taking things to the next level, as do all apps in the field, according to Mette – “[How to] make it really personal with tips, training and advice, to replace a personal trainer, which few people can afford … That’s a promise we never deliver on.”

While it might not quite be time to tell your trainer you’ve decided that ‘PT’ now stands for past-tense, app experts are adamant, that day will come. In the meantime, they hope their digital offerings can keep you on track – and there’s certainly no shortage of them.

shutterstock_117073888 Source: Peter Bernik via Shutterstock

While the top charts fluctuate, there are some unshakeable stalwarts. In Ireland, My Fitness Pal remains the most downloaded health app in the country, according to app market data company, App Annie.

It holds the top spot on both the IOS and android charts here and with good reason – its food logging database is user-friendly and its RDA (recommended daily allowance) reminders cut out the hassle of manually calculating what you’ve consumed. From personal experience, it’s the market’s most stress-free, least annoying offering, if you’re trying to ease into being healthier.

Fitbit, too, is pretty stress-free, offers a similar service to My Fitness Pal, and syncs with all your phone’s other data, to simplify your digital housekeeping. It helps you log your steps, food, sleep and prompts you with reminders to get up and move. The downside? You’ll need the hardware to reap the benefits, and wearables, while cheaper than they used to be, will still set you back: depending on the model, a Fitbit here could cost you anything from €40 to €190.

Obviously, some are willing to pay that, considering Fitbit’s long stint as the world’s top wearable; a title it lost to Apple only last year. And since it’s in third and fourth position respectively on the Irish IOS and android chart, we seem to like our wearables.

Favourite apps

Another app to feature in the top five of both lists is Headspace; an increasingly prominent name in the ‘alternative health’ tech dialogue. The company was founded by a meditation expert who trained for a decade with buddhist monks and the appeal of guided digital meditations for stressed, burned out professionals is obvious.

It’s tempting to think the people pushing it to the top of the Irish chart are the same ones inflating the price of avocados and ordering matcha tea… in reality, everyone from your bus driver to your kids’ montessori teacher is likely logging on.

The drawback is, while it’s free to download initially, it requires a subscription after 30 days. But with prices from €7 a month, there are worse and less healthy things to spend your money on.

For what it’s worth, at HealthConf, our favourites align with those already mentioned. We’re also fans of Bodyspace, Runkeeper, Samsung Health, Apple Health and Google fit. Like most things, finding the best fit for you is a case of trial, error, and looking at your own goals and circumstances.

It’s also about paying attention to your own user data – that and consistency are the quickest ways to make real changes, according to the man behind Fitbit, Eric Friedman.

After the company rolled out reminders to move, “we saw in the data, [users] started to move more … and then needed fewer and fewer reminders over time – their behaviour was changing”, Eric told us at HealthConf.

He’s analysing the data of six billion users: you need to look at just one. Because the data in what you’re downloading this new year can make your resolutions that much easier to keep the next time around.

Yvonne Redmond is Speaker Director at Web Summit, and runs HealthConf; the event’s dedicated platform for innovation in health and medical technology.

Read: ‘Dealing with M50 traffic before your day has even started will test the mettle of any hardened citizen’>

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About the author:

Yvonne Redmond  / Health and medical technology expert

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