When Jon Mead, a devoted cyclist, visits a new city, he goes right to his smartphone app Strava to find the best bike routes. In Sacramento, Calif., where he works at a Fleet Feet running-gear shop, the 24-year-old uses MapmyRide to track his course in an archive.
Bethany Scribner, a runner who also works at the fitness gear retailer, likes the apps MapmyRun and Livestrong, which tracks nutrition in a daily pie chart showing fat, protein and carbs. Saucony Run4Good is a favorite, too, said Scribner, 21, because the company donates to anti-obesity programs for kids if enough runners cover enough miles.
MapMyRide, MapMyRun, Livestrong, Run4Good, MyFitnessPal are all part of an exploding arena of health and fitness applications for smartphones.
Among users, a pinch of competition – a social network of friends who sign up to share fitness scores – is all you need to make this an activity as additive as Twitter is for some.
The Pew Research Center, in a new report titled Mobile Health 2012, found that 19 percent of smartphone owners have at least one health app on their devices – with exercise, diet, and calorie-counting programs the most popular.
Ale Lauth is a senior health educator for Kaiser Permanente in the North Sacramento Valley region. She has witnessed the trend first-hand in her role as wellness guru for hundreds of Kaiser employees and physicians.
“We’ve definitely seen their usage increase,” Lauth said. “The apps have come a long way, and they’re constantly upgrading.”
They are also proliferating. Click on Apple’s health and fitness apps page and you’ll find iRunner, Fitocracy, Fitter Fitness, Fitness Buddy, Fitbit, Fitness Pro, miCoach, Abs Workout, Virtual Trainer – and about 250 more.
And it’s not just fitness. There’s a parallel world of apps geared to other aspects of health and wellness: iTriage, iFirstAidLite, InstantHeartRate, CuresA-Z, not to mention a host of downloadable apps such as OvulationCalendar that help women track their menstrual and fertility cycles.
The American Medical Association has launched its own consumer weight app, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology held a contest in July for the best app to help consumers identify and reduce their risk of heart disease.
Most physicians are happy to see patients using simple apps to motivate them to exercise, eat well and lose weight.
MyFitnessPal has emerged as one of the more popular apps letting users set weight-loss goals then chart calories consumed, calories burned and poundage.
“These are great motivators,” said Lauth of Kaiser Permanente. “When you hit your goals, you and your friends see the results.”