Today’s health and fitness apps offer a lot of options.
Depending on the app (and its free and paid versions) you can:
- See your daily step count.
- Log your workouts, including the type and duration.
- Record nutrition information. Calorie and water intake at least, and some apps record fat, sodium, sugar, carbs, and more.
- Enable location tracking and record details about your walks or runs.
- Set personal goals, whether you want to lose or gain weight or hit a certain number of runs per week.
Too, many of today’s health and fitness apps offer social components, no doubt with the idea in mind that people are more likely to really use the apps — to really strive toward their fitness and health goals — if they can engage with other like-minded folk.
Now, research out of Flinders University in Australia shows that’s true.
The study, led by Flinders University PhD candidate Jasmine Petersen and co-authored by Dr. Ivanka Prichard, shows that engaging with other users in the apps’ communities and social network platforms provides people with encouragement to both engage more with their apps and increase their physical activity.
Researchers examined nearly 1,300 adults between the ages of 18 and 83 years old for the study. Of those, 88% were female and over half of participants used a commercial health and fitness app. Results showed that the people who were more competitive responded the best to the apps; they would engage in significantly higher levels of physical activity because of the “game-like” incentives and rewards the apps offered. Because of this, Dr. Prichard noted that people with competitive spirits might benefit the most from these apps. Additionally, these results didn’t vary among the different age groups.
However, Dr. Prichard also noted that there were negative effects if the participants used the social components to make comparisons:
Engagement in comparisons was associated with lower self-efficacy and higher external regulation, and in turn, lower physical activity.
Over all, this seems like great news, especially given that so many of us have “lost” our in-person workout buddies to social distancing! In fact, the researchers are currently following up with the study participants to see how these apps could support physical activity amid the coronavirus restrictions.
How about you all?
Do you use a health and fitness app? Which one? Does it have options for social engagement and if so, do you use them? Do they help keep you motivated, or do you find that the potential competitive nature or opportunity to get sucked into comparing yourself to others isn’t worth it?