There's not much that's more important than staying healthy, but it can be hard to form - and stick to - the necessary good habits. (Especially in the depths of winter!) One thing I've found helpful over the years is to really track what I want to achieve; somehow, having a list of what I have (or haven't) done makes me feel accountable, even if it's only to myself.
Fortunately, these days there's a lot that modern technology can offer to help us out with keeping records and staying on track. In fact, if anything, there are too many choices out there, so I thought it might be helpful to share a few of my favourites.
Each of these suggestions specialises in a different area.
My criteria when determining what makes a quality application include:
- easy to use with an intuitive interface
- a free version with good functionality (even if an upgrade is available)
- ability to synchronise data across devices
- available for both Apple and Android platforms
- ability to work offline, particularly when I'm travelling and don't want to use roaming data
- a web version with access to the same account information, in case I want to see it all on a bigger screen
- privacy and sharing settings - ideally, the ability to lock down my data to just me
For Running & Walking
Endomondo uses GPS to track your walks, runs, ski trails, and other outdoor activities. You can store your favourite routes to compare your times between different sessions, and on the website you can retrace your steps on Google Maps, for instance to see how fast you were going at any given point. The accuracy of the route, of course, depends on the GPS on your phone... so the mapping can be a bit variable.
In theory you can add other kinds of exercise (such as weight lifting) to your log, but the recording functions in Endomondo are geared towards GPS tracking. It doesn't really have a way to store any detail beyond "time spent" for other types of exercise, so I tend not to bother. You can get more stats by upgrading to the paid version.
For The Gym
Fitocracy is a workout app with a built-in library of exercises. You can group these together into your own favourite routines, or just pick exercises ad hoc from the list. The application gives you points for completing different exercises, and allows others to give you 'props' for completed workouts, although I have to say that I tend to ignore these aspects of the program. However, it's really easy to use and has fairly good coverage of bodyweight and weight-lifting exercises.
The range of exercises, while good, is limited; although you can recommend a new exercise, you can't just add your own, so at times when following my physio regimen I've had to resort to recording something "similar" to what I'm actually doing. However, of the few apps I've tried with a wider range of exercises, I've yet to find one that's half as easy to use (I found Jefit crashy on Android, and Fitness Buddy very fiddly, with heavy limitations unless you want to pay).
For Healthy Eating
MyFitnessPal takes a food diary approach to tracking your calorie intake. For pre-packaged food, you can use your phone's camera to scan the barcode, with very good coverage - although a couple of times I've had to correct it. You can also link MyFitnessPal to a number of other accounts (such as Endomondo) to import your exercise data, if you want to compare calories used to calories eaten. If you record your food intake accurately, you can then review your daily and weekly nutrition statistics, giving a good idea of areas where you might need to improve.
The app is geared to weight loss, although you can also set it up with goals to maintain or gain weight. I don't worry too much about the daily calorie limits that it suggests, not least because the 5:2 method doesn't really lend itself to flat daily limits (and the app gives warning messages if you record a low-calorie day!), but I do find it very helpful to keep an eye on what kind of foods I'm eating.
Sleep is also crucial for good health, in the long term. SleepBot is an app which measures your sleep patterns using the accelerometer on your phone. You can track how long you sleep for, how much you move around, and even whether you talk in your sleep. It's easy to use (just stick the phone under your pillow and hit the 'sleep' button) and you can even ask it to silence or disconnect your phone while you sleep.
There's a smart alarm function, which uses the accelerometer readings and tries to wake you up at the point when you're sleeping most lightly. I have a memory foam mattress so the accelerometer doesn't always record much variation (unless I actually sit up), but if I'm feeling tired it's very helpful to be able to look back over the past couple of weeks and see if I'm going to bed too late.
If you're struggling to relax enough to get a good night's sleep, then sitting quietly in meditation might help. This is something I'm trying to do more of, so I thought a dedicated app might help. The Insight Meditation Timer is a simple application to help you meditate without clock-watching. You simply set your goal time, and the timer will chime at the end to let you know you're done. Of course, you can pause the timer part-way if you're interrupted.
Optionally, the paid version of the app allows you to set chimes every few minutes to mark your progress, and to pick from a wider range of sounds, but I haven't felt the need for these functions yet. There's also an online community, and you can check your stats on the website.