If you have a smart phone, then you probably know how easy it is to use apps as a social escape route. Don’t know anyone at a party? Facebook. Waiting in a doctor’s office? Twitter. Sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic? Candy Crush. Rather than face the uncomfortable situation at hand, we turn to our mobile devices to fill the time. (Louis C.K. has a hilarious yet honest opinion on why he hates cell phones. Side note: I think Louis C.K. is becoming my favorite comedian.)
Smart phones and apps can also be incredible tools for productivity and healthy living. (Not all technology will contribute to the decline of humanity and social interaction as we know it.) Here are a few apps that I’ve been recommending to friends. In small ways, these apps have been helping me to develop healthier habits.
1. 5K Runner: 0 to 5K run training (Clear Sky Apps LTD) – $2.99 (full version)
I do not consider myself a runner in any regard. I blame my poor cardiovascular health, ill-fitting sneakers, and flat feet. It is my goal, however, to run a 5K before my 30th birthday. I decided to buy properly fitting running shoes and start training with a “couch to 5k” program. I first downloaded the free version of this app, which includes the first four runs of the training program, but I decided to shell out the $2.99 and commit to training. (I have yet to finish the training, but I’m determined to get my $2.99 worth!) The idea behind a C25K program is to build you up gradually from a non-runner to someone who can complete a 5K (3.1 miles). Like many other C25K apps, 5K Runner guides you through intervals of walking and running, building up to a straight 35-minute run over the course of eight weeks, three times per week. The runs also include a five-minute warm up walk and a five-minute cool down. What I like about the 5K Runner app is the built-in music player interface, which connects to the music in your phone’s library. You can control your running playlist from within the app rather than switching between apps (while running). The volume of the music automatically adjusts for when your “coach” tells you to start running or walking at the end of each interval. The coach is probably the best feature, because it’s encouraging to hear “You’re at the halfway point” or “Great job! See you again in a few days!” when all you want to do is quit. This app combined with the right running shoes made me not hate running.
2. Map My Run (MapMyFitness) – FREE
You may think I’m a runner since the first two apps I recommend are running apps, but I’m really not. I’m only recently learning not to hate running, and these apps are helping with that. This app does exactly what the name suggests: maps my run. You press “record” at the start of your run, and it creates a map of where you’ve gone using your phone’s GPS. It tracks change in elevation, mile pace, distance, and time. It also lets you know at the end of each mile how long you’ve been running, your pace for that mile, and overall average pace. You can save your route to run again or browse through other running paths that others have saved to switch up your running routine. Map My Run also allows you to share your route and time on social media sites like Facebook. I like to use Map My Run in conjunction with 5K Runner so that I can keep track of my distance during that day’s 35-minute run.
3. Calorie Counter & Diet Tracker by MyFitnessPal (MyFitnessPal.com) – FREE
I originally downloaded this app last year to keep track of what I was eating right before bed and to see if there was any correlation to the dreams I was having. (I didn’t stick with it and never found out what kinds of dreams I would have if I ate a dairy-based snack right before bed.) I recently put the app back on my phone, because I want to have a healthier diet and make better decisions when it comes to food. (I made this decision after taking on my coworker’s challenge of eating a 12-pack of tacos from Taco Bell in one night. I finished nine. It was not the best decision I’ve made in my life.) Part of this effort is being more conscious of portion sizes, how frequently I eat, and the nutritional value of the food I choose. I tend to eat whenever I see food rather than when I am hungry, which leads to a lot of snacking when there is junk food and other snacks throughout the entire office. This app makes it easy to keep track of what you eat throughout the day, its caloric and nutritional value, and your daily physical activity. You can set a goal of how many calories you should be eating in a day as well as track your progress if you want to use the app to help you lose weight (you can also input measurement data to track how many inches you have lost).
There are several features I like about this app. First, I like how easy it is to add entries to your diary. You can scan an item’s barcode to add it to your day, manually input the nutritional info or just the number of calories, and also build recipes within the app to log the nutritional info for your homemade spaghetti sauce. You can also search through items that other users have added or reference your recent or frequent foods. Second, you can also use the app to track your physical activity by browsing through a wide selection of cardiovascular activities. Select an activity and input the number of minutes performed, and it will calculate how many calories you probably burned. The app also shows you a breakdown of carbs vs. fats vs. protein, tells you how much you would likely weigh in five weeks, and also warns you if you are not eating enough.
4. Sleep Time (Azumio Inc.) – FREE
Sleep Time is not your typical alarm clock app. It uses your phone’s accelerometer to track your movements while you sleep, thus tracking your sleep cycles. Regular alarm clocks wake you up at a set time without regard to your sleep cycle. Sometimes your alarm goes off when you are in the deep sleep stage, making it difficult to wake up and often leaving you feeling very tired. With Sleep Cycle, however, you can set what time you would like to wake up as well as a time range from 0 to 30 minutes. The app wakes you up within that time range when you are in your lightest stage of sleep. For example, if you need to be awake by 6:30 and set a range of 30 minutes, Sleep Time gradually wakes you up within the 30 minutes before your alarm time when it senses that you are naturally beginning to wake up. It begins with just vibration, and then it adds a ringtone with increasing volume. Like conventional alarm clocks, you have the option to hit the snooze button. This makes it easier for me to wake up, and I feel more rested, too. The free app also logs the past five days of sleep cycle data, which includes what time the alarm went off, what time you turned off the alarm, and a graph of your sleep cycle stages. Make sure your phone is charged before you go to sleep, since the app runs throughout the night.
5. Bible (LifeChurch.tv) – FREE
If spiritual health is important to you, I suggest the Bible app from LifeChurch.tv, also known as YouVersion. It is an ad-free Bible app that contains hundreds of versions, multiple languages, and the capability to take notes, create bookmarks, and highlight passages. Some churches also connect their sermon notes with the app. My favorite feature of the app is the selection of reading plans. I have a goal to read the entire Bible before I turn 30, and the reading plans help me to stay on track. The plan I currently use is the canonical plan, which goes through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, cover to cover, a few chapters every day for a year. So far I am in 1 Kings, which is toward the beginning and a little over 100 days into the plan. I have not always kept up with reading, but I can easily select “catch me up” to move the last completed chapters to yesterday and continue from there. If I were to stay on track starting today, I would finish reading the entire Bible this coming July.
My Cycles (MedHelp) – FREE
For women – Track cycles, symptoms, mood, and medications in an easy-to-use calendar. This makes it easier to answer doctors’ questions, know when to expect a migraine or other regularly occurring symptoms, and track your fertility if you are trying (or not trying) to conceive.
What are some apps that may be changing your life? Leave your recommendations in the comments section below!