Beyond the Fitbit – Smartphone Apps Help Users Eat Healthier, Get in Shape

So you want to be healthy — to eat healthier foods, trim the fat, and get in shape. But where to begin?
Sure, you can read up on hot fitness trends, talk to your doctor about diet, and seek motivation from family, friends, and good old inner strength. But today’s seekers of a healthier life have another option: fitness and nutrition apps they can carry with them at all times on their smartphones.
Wearable tech like Fitbits remain popular, of course, but increasingly, Americans are taking advantage of free or very low-cost apps to show them how to shop, all the facts on what they’re eating, how to exercise, and how to stay committed to better habits. A quick peek at the Google app store for Android devices and the Apple store for iOS devices reveal hundreds, perhaps thousands, of choices. Here are some of the more popular ones earning raves from the tech press.

Get the Facts
One of the most popular nutrition apps is MyFitnessPal, which offers a wealth of tools for tracking what and how much you eat, and how many calories you burn through activity, explains Jill Duffy at PC Magazine. “Of all the calorie counters I’ve used, MyFitnessPal is by far the easiest one to manage, and it comes with the largest database of foods and drinks. With the MyFitnessPal app, you can fastidiously watch what you eat 24/7, no matter where you are.”
Available for free across the spectrum of devices — Android, iOS, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone — the app’s database of more than 6 million foods makes it easy to track a diet, or the lack of one, added Jeff Cattel at Greatist. “Whether you’re trying to lose weight or put on muscle, the app helps determine the best things to eat and meet your goals.”
But eating starts with shopping, and Fooducate (free for Android and iOS with optional in-app purchases) is a good way to get the facts on food before actually paying for it and bringing it home.
“Fooducate makes grocery shopping surprisingly fun,” Cattel said. “Open the app, scan barcodes, and get a quick read on how healthy each item is.” The app also has settings to track sleep, mood, and hunger levels, analyzing all of the information and providing feedback to help users meet their health and fitness goals.
Sharon Liao at Fitness magazine noted that reading food labels is important, but it’s also time-intensive, and Fooducate helps speed things up. “Use it to scan an item’s bar code, and not only will it offer a quick nutritional rundown, but it will also give the food a grade and highlight important details, such as ‘serving size is unusually small,’” she noted. “You can tap it to get a better-for-you swap if your pick doesn’t rate so well.”

Get Moving
But nutrition is only part of the story when it comes to fitness — exercise is the other key discipline. But where to start? For people who may not have any idea and don’t relish the thought of hiring a trainer, there’s an app — many, actually — for that, too.
Among the more well-reviewed is the Johnson & Johnson Official 7 Minute Workout (free for Android and iOS), which helps users squeeze some exercise into their day at an intensity level that suits them, Duffy said.
“The interface is surprisingly attractive and clear. All you need is a chair and seven minutes — or about 11 minutes if you add a warm-up and cool down. A medium-intensity workout can include jumping jacks, pushups, wall chair, high-knee running in place, crunches, plank, side plank, triceps dips using a chair, and a few other moves. The app coaches you through each move as it comes up in the workout. It’s a great app for people of all ability levels.”
The Nike+ Training Club (free for Android and iOS) takes the concept to the next level, offering more than 100 workouts to choose from. Users can also opt for a customized, full-body, four-week plan. “A trainer leads you through the routines, plus you get instructional video clips of the moves,” Liao wrote. “Don’t like burpees? The updated app lets you swap drills you hate for ones you love.”
For those who prefer being outdoors to get in shape, Strava Running and Cycling GPS (free for Android and iOS with optional in-app purchases) monitors running or cycling routes via GPS, noted Julian Chokkattu at Digital Trends. “It also gamifies your cardio workout and pairs with leaderboards, achievements, and challenges, bringing a competitive spirit to your routine.”
Chokkattu also had high praise for FitnessBuilder (free for Android and iOS), a simple strength-training app that records the number of reps the user performs and how much weight they’re using. “It also has a diverse catalog of workouts,” he wrote. “The fitness builder app even lets you keep track of your workouts and allows you see the progress you’ve made.”
For a more comprehensive training assistant, Michael Rodio in Men’s Fitness recommends Jefit, free at Android and iOS, with Pro ($4.99) and Elite ($4.99/month) options available. Jefit creates personalized workout routines by tracking and analyzing the user’s workout progress and diligently recording weight, reps, and time.
“Its data-heavy approach will appeal to stat nerds and workout obsessives alike. Jefit also packs the most robust library of exercises and maneuvers,” Rodio noted, including how-to videos with more than 1,300 exercises making up scores of workouts. The free version is limited, with some bare-bones workout routines and basic activity logs. Pro is ad-free and unlocks more analytics. The Elite option includes stat-heavy features like progress reports and comparison charts, plus ‘premium workout routines’ and insights on performance.

Keep Moving
OK, so you’re committed to exercise. How to stay motivated? Once again, it’s apps to the rescue.
Some people are motivated simply by music, and Rodio says RockMyRun (free for Android and iOS, with a ‘Rockstar’ option for $2.99/month) fills the bill admirably.
“RockMyRun is solid choice for streaming upbeat music to accompany your workout, with mixes from celebrity DJs and artists like Zedd, Afrojack, and David Guetta,” he noted. “But what really sets this app apart is the paid (and ad-free) ‘Rockstar’ membership, which unlocks the myBeat syncing technology.”
The myBeat feature pairs the user’s playlist to his or her pace by selecting songs that consistently match a set number of beats per minute, whether they assign the BPM manually or — if using iOS — let the phone automatically pair BPM with their steps via the phone’s accelerometer, or their heart rate through an external Bluetooth monitor. “RockMyRun is a streaming service, though, so you’ll need a fairly robust data plan or wi-fi access to keep the music coming.”
If music isn’t enough of a motivator, how about raising money? For charity, that is. The Charity Miles app (free for Android and iOS) earns money for charities every time the user takes a walk, run, or bike ride, Duffy explained. Corporate sponsors agree to donate a few cents for every mile completed. Just browse the app’s list of charities, find one to support, and then hit the road.
For something a little cheekier, Zombies, Run! (free for Android and iOS with optional in-app purchases) makes running more fun by turning the exercise into an actual adventure, Cattel said.
“Each step gets you closer to carrying out your mission, collecting materials for your base camp and keeping humans safe from the zombie apocalypse,” he wrote. “There’s a reason this game became the highest-grossing health and fitness app on iTunes in just two weeks — even though it’s free to download, you’ll start shelling out money like you do for Candy Crush — except this game helps you get your sweat on.”
Finally, if none of that is particularly motivating, maybe being insulted would work.
“Most fitness apps try to nicely encourage you to lose weight,” said A.J. Dellinger of Digital Trends. “Carrot Fit ($3 for Android and iOS) is not like these apps. The first thing it does is declare itself your ‘fitness overlord.’ After that, it guides you to your ideal weight through insults and judgements, like a digital Don Rickles-Richard Simmons hybrid. And a horrible hybrid it is. We like the idea, but after trying to lose weight and get in shape the Carrot way, we wish we chose the stick instead.”
Or the charity fund-raising. Or even the zombies.