Do Health and Fitness Apps Work?


With over 1 billion people in the world having either a smartphone or a tablet there has been a growing emergence of apps to meet the demands of the health and fitness industry. From my research at least 40,000 apps are available to assist people in living a healthier lifestyle, with no fewer than 10,000 of them aimed at improving diet and fitness.


Damien Kelly of Body and Soul listed his Top five fitness apps as: 

  1. Twenty chin-ups
  2. Run keeper pro
  3. Couch to 5k
  4. iFitness
  5. The Personal Trainer

My personal favourite is the app 'The Personal Trainer' as the instructional videos are excellent. One aspect of my training I am particular about with my clients is good exercise technique. Injury will set you back, cause pain and is very frustrating. What is more frustrating however is causing the injury yourself by performing the exercise without proper training form. The Personal Trainer app reduces this risk by teaching via video the correct technique for performing the different exercises. They are shot very well and are easy to follow, so you should be in no doubt as to what is required for each exercise.

Most apps on the market provide you with a variety of details like calorie counting, timers, a  food diary, exercise routines and nutrition advice. Most apps are free to start however to upgrade to a more detailed and user friendly version the cost can be between $0.99 to $29.99. 

Do health and fitness apps work?

In a report by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, researchers evaluated all of the health care apps on how well they functioned and displayed relevant health information, and to whether they provided helpful and potentially motivating reminders for good health habits. The researchers also interviewed physicians and the app providers about how useful the metrics were.

What they found is one major shortcoming of health care apps is that they are targeted towards the more tech savy of the population. Unfortunately, many of those who have the greatest need to address chronic health issues are either low in income so don’t own a smart phone, or are elderly and not smart phone users. 

Another failing of many apps is the quality of the information displayed. Sometimes it is pretty vague about what is being measured. For example, the Nike FuelBand measures ‘fuel’, but what exactly is fuel. Is it the number of calories burned during a physical activity? Nike describes it as a ‘universal way to measure all kinds of activities,’ but we have no idea how they determine this quantity. This makes it hard to translate the data with anything meaningful external to this particular app.

Lastly people simply don’t use them. Whilst the author didn’t mention it in the report, apps tend to fall into the same category as the treadmill in the bedroom with clothes on it, or the gym membership used for a month. The drive for people to live a healthier lifestyle is not more information, or even convenience. The development of a deep personal connection with exercise which brings pleasure, physically, mentally and even spiritually for some, is the most powerful motivator of all.

Wishing you great health and much happiness,

Important: This article is general advice only. For further advice or information on this topic, please consult your health professional.
Category: Fitness

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