Fitness equipment isn’t just about barbells and treadmills any more. The smartphone is part of the essential toolkit, thanks to a plethora of apps on the iTunes App Store and the Google Play Store (formerly known as the Android Market). There are apps to help you stay healthy by planning exercise routines, and apps that help you sleep better, monitor your food intake, and even help you to quit smoking, offering advice and support through the process.
Praveen Sharma, a Delhi-based general physician, says, “I think that apps that encourage a person to lose weight or quit smoking are a great idea, but people should keep away from apps that claim to diagnose illness.”
Apps that help people improve their general health through exercise and healthy habits are useful, particularly because they create a sense of community, says Avdesh Bansal, senior consultant, respiratory and critical care, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, Delhi. People using them feel part of a larger group, and do not feel isolated in their efforts, Dr Bansal says.
He adds: “For example, if you’re trying to stop smoking, an app that connects you to other people who’re also trying to quit links you to a big support group. It also gives you someone to reach out to when you’re distracted by the cravings.”
Illustration by Raajan/Mint
Delhi-based physiotherapist Harmeet Kaur Rai is less certain of the exercise benefits of apps. They may at best allow you to plan exercises for specific muscles, create physical fitness regimens, and even come with video demonstrations, says Rai. She adds: “The exercise apps show you what to do, but they don’t see if you’re doing something properly. If I show you an exercise, you can’t copy it properly right away. I have to show people exercises, then guide them through the movements, shift their hands or backs, so that they benefit. So I think that these apps are no more useful than a fitness video.”
Apps such as iMuscle (an exercise planning app) are, however, among the more popular offerings on the App Store, with good ratings and positive feedback from users in the comments as well.
We selected some of the best fitness apps available—all of them have been updated with new versions in the last three months.
Social networks that focus on sharing photos of the food you’re eating, such as Foodspotting, have become popular, but the Eatery app for the iPhone is a decidedly healthy take on the idea.
The concept is simple—whenever you go to a restaurant, you take a picture of the food you eat and rate it as “fit” or “fat” by tapping the respective buttons.
It records this information, so you can see the history of the food you’re eating and understand your habits more clearly, thinking about the decisions you make about food.
It then builds a database of restaurants and menu items, and this database is updated on a central server. Every user of the app then has access to food ratings for restaurants, and can get fat-or-fit reviews for places and dishes they haven’t tried yet.
An Android version is supposed to be on the way, but no release date has been announced.
App Store/Play Market
One of the best apps for people trying to stop smoking, this was developed for the British National Health Service, and features a lot of useful information. When you start the app for the first time, you need to key in how many cigarettes you smoke in a day. After that, whenever you start the app, you get advice, tips and facts to help you kick the habit. A counter on the app uses the information you give to show the number of cigarettes avoided, and the money saved by doing so over time, as well.
App Store/Play Store
$1.99 (Rs 107) and $4.99 for the iPad edition
iMuscle is a workout-aid that is well-suited to fitness junkies who want to micromanage their body’s development. The app shows you a 3D human body minus the skin. You can zoom in on different parts of the body and observe the musculature, and if you want to exercise any particular muscle, just tap it, and a list of all the exercises that work that particular muscle pop up. Choose an exercise and an animated 3D model does the exercise for you to copy.
MyFitnessPal Calorie Counter and Fitness Tracker
App Store/Play Market
Keeping track of the nutritive value of the food you’re eating can be a complicated task. MyFitnessPal calorie counter simplifies the process by building a large database of foods, and measuring the calories and nutritional components of over 400,000 food items. Choose from a menu of options, then simply click the pictures of food items you’re eating, and the app tracks the calories.
The app is easy to use and well-presented, but since we weren’t able to find a good Indian database, many of the 400,000 items are not really relevant. That said, as tastes become more globalized, having an app that compares the benefits of sourdough bread with French toast is handy enough. The app also creates food and exercise plans to meet specific weight-related goals; you can key in your weight daily and track it over time, using charts as a visual aid.
If you’re interested in a smart alarm like the Fitbit (you can wear it on your wrist and it costs $129) but don’t want to spend a lot of money for a single-purpose device, then the Sleep Cycle app is your best bet. Like other smart alarms, Sleep Cycle tracks your sleep pattern to wake you up when you’re in light sleep, so that you wake up feeling rested and relaxed.
To use the app, place the iPhone under your pillow, near your head. It uses the accelerometer on the phone to measure slight movements of your head, and then uses an algorithm to chart your sleep cycle—you can see how long you were in deep sleep and how much of your night was restless. You set a window of time when the alarm can ring, and it starts buzzing when you’re in light sleep.
Nike Training Club
Nike already has a fitness app for runners, which has been featured in the most downloaded list in the App Store, but the Nike Training Club aims to be more a personal trainer. The app features 60 full body workout routines—there are detailed visual guides for each, and the app focuses on providing a good hands-free experience, so you programme a workout routine, or let the app figure one out for you, and then you don’t need to touch your phone again till you’ve gone through the entire playlist—there’s no need to load different routines one at a time, unlike in other apps.
App Store/Play Market
$3.99 (there is also a free version, with ads called Sprout Lite)
The Sprout App is supposed to help pregnant women by creating 3D models of the growing baby, a weight tracker, kick counter and contraction timer, all of which help create a pregnancy calendar. There are also doctor-visit planners, hospital checklists, even checklists for things needed when the baby arrives, so that every detail can be planned in advance, minus the stress.