Find your motivation in a fitness app

May 12, 2016 Providence Health Team

If you’re serious about tracking your health and fitness efforts, or you need motivation to reach your goals, an app is a useful tool. There are a lot out there and they vary in quality, price and features. How do you decide what’s right for you? Ask questions and do your research.

To help you get started, we talked to Mehran Movassaghi, M.D., urologist and director at Providence St. John’s Men’s Health Center in Santa Monica. Dr. Movassaghi is a fitness buff and a fan of apps. “Apps are good at keeping you accountable, motivating you to beat your personal record or even compete with others in your area,” he says.

Read on to find out what apps Dr. Movassaghi recommends and uses for his own training.

I want to improve my cardiovascular health. What should I look for in an app?

Look for ease of use. Some apps require that you input a lot of data. Also ask yourself what your motivation is for improving your cardiovascular health. If it’s to increase stamina or improve overall health, look for an app that will track your daily results and send you emails periodically. If you’re serious about cardiovascular health then you need a heart rate monitor and an app that can communicate with it.

The Digifit iCardio app is a good option that works with many wearable devices. Some gyms have their own apps that link with wearable fitness trackers like watches and heart rate bands. These can give you a more accurate assessment of the level of training you’re getting based on your heart rate levels. Usually these apps will use the standard formula (220 minus your age) to find your max heart rate. If you’re in shape your true max heart rate may be lower. Be aware this can potentially offset the accuracy of the app.

I’m trying to lose weight. Is it better to look for an app that focuses on activity level rather than calorie counting?

Ideally, you need an app that does both. There are a number of affordable wearable tracking devices, Fitbit and Apple Watch, for example, and you can find an app that communicates with the one you choose. This allows you to track your progress based on real data. Many of the calorie-counting apps have a limited food database making it difficult and laborious to log what you eat. MyFitnessPal has a large database of foods that makes it somewhat manageable.

Fruit Street is a resource available to health care professionals that allows them to help you stay on track. This app can keep a record of your activities and food logs, and syncs up with your primary care provider, nutritionist or trainer. Working with your provider, it can help you make any needed modifications.

Do apps really motivate people to achieve their health and fitness goals?

An app is only good if you use it. They can help you be accountable, give you plans and help you track your progress. But ultimately, if you’re not following through then no matter how great the app, the job won’t get done.

If you’re motivated by money, try Pact. This app lets you bet against yourself. For example, let’s say you make a bet that you will go to the gym four times in a week. If you don’t reach your goal, you’ll have to pay $20. The money helps pay those who met their weekly goals. If you reach your goal, you get money.

Charity Miles allows you to donate money to a charity based on how much you run. Strava is for the competitive type. This app compares your results to other users on the app and in your area.

What app do you use?

I use MapMyRun, which has GPS. After inputting data it will track my run and allows me to listen to music. You can choose the type of activity you’re doing and it will give you an accurate calorie count for walking stairs, using the treadmill and so on. I also use the Orangetheory Fitness app to track cardio exercise.

If you want to start a fitness or health routine and have questions, talk to your provider. You can find a Providence provider near you.

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