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BW Businessworld

Phone Fitness

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Whoever thought cellphones would be so good for health? In fact, there was a time when cellphones were only associated with radiation and cancer. But then, that never did get resolved.

Today, the ‘humble’ mobile has become a health assistant and personal trainer that’s always with you. All its sensors are at your service as they become active participants in shaping a more fit you. Wearable accessories add some serious functionality and measurability, but you don’t absolutely have to have them to achieve fitness goals. Your phone and the countless sea of apps are there for the taking. Let’s start with sleep...

SleepBot, free on iOS and Android, is a really interesting and easy app for taking charge of your sleep. It tracks your sleep cycle and motion. It doesn’t require you to do so much that you’d need to engage with the app itself much. First, set your alarm. The app will wake you in phases with a pre-alarm and then a final one. Use the app’s widget to tap into sleep, and then again when you’re waking up. That way, the tracking begins.

Plug in your phone to make sure your battery doesn’t drain. Place the phone next to your body and go to sleep. The app logs your sleep time,  makes a graph of your movement and can even record sound. It can log your snoring and sleep talking,  giving you an idea of your sleep quality. The efficacy of the movement tracking will vary on the type of bed — after all, the phone’s accelerometer has to kick into action.

SleepBot’s value comes into play when you track your sleep over time. Then you see the patterns. Do you regularly oversleep or under-sleep? Is it restful? Of course, there is no information about the stages of your sleep, etc., because the device isn’t attached to you and can’t measure parameters, but you do get some surface-level information.

You can also make quick notes in case you like to log your dreams. You also rate your sleep cycle because ultimately, you’re not rested until you feel rested.

Extras involve quick tips to sleep, wake up and stay awake. There are even links to exercise videos. But SleepBot is just an example, and there are numerous sleep tracking apps on all operating systems.

Now that we are awake, let’s see how active we are through the day. If you’re not ready yet to spend and experiment with a smartwatch or fitness band, there is a pedometer on your phone. Moves, free on iOS and Android, counts your steps all day, as long as you carry it with you, of course. You can hold the phone, keep  the app open and watch the counter go up as you walk around. At the end of the day, you get the total number of steps taken, and you can even take counts after a walk. Unfortunately, it eats up a bit of battery as it stays active all the time, especially as it works best with the GPS turned on.

No one can assume that walking around the house or office amounts to exercise. But use the count to increase your activity, and it is  sustained for 45 minutes and involves some upper body movement — it’s exercise! Strides, free on iOS and Android, is good for those with sedentary lifestyles — desk-bound at work and couch-bound at home. It reminds you to ‘get up and move it’, while logging activity. It’s amusing that people become addicted to tracking their own activity and is strangely self-obsessive.

Running is a favourite exercise with many and the Runkeeper app is a favourite with 25 million-plus users. There’s a free and paid version and it’s on all platforms. The app aims to be the original trainer in your pocket and lets you track your running, walking, cycling, hiking, biking, etc., using your phone’s GPS. It gives you detailed stats on your pace, distance, time and calories burned. You get progress alerts and coaching through your headphones with audio cues. You can also measure your heart rate. The app keeps you motivated by telling you your performance over time and helping you go to the next milestone. You can follow detailed plans to help you achieve specific fitness objectives, like run for weight loss or run a 5K. You can compare goals and progress with others.

And then, you have a suite of apps that go beyond running. Runtastic includes push-ups, pull-ups, crunches, etc. Sadly, they’re all in different apps, the ‘pro’ versions of which are paid. You also need to pay for different music packs, if the default doesn’t appeal to you. Runtastic is not a coach but a fitness planner and motivator, and lets you compare and compete with others. The app works with a bunch of accessories, and with other apps as well. It has several of its own accessories.

There are also a number of Nike running and fitness apps on iOS and Android that users swear by. They are simple and reliable but work best with accessories. The same is the case with FitBit, which has its app working with wristbands but offers basics without.

A social and gaming angle is being added to more and more apps with the hope that it will boost motivation and healthy competition. Fiticracy is an example. Friends — or even strangers — can help each other with tips and encouragement so that with apps and their social networks, no one needs to exercise all alone.  

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(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 10-03-2014)