Fitness apps: How fit are they?

By Gizbot Bureau

Is the smartphone your new doctor, as is being claimed by many app developers?

Fitness apps: How fit are they?

The market is already flooded with more than 30,000 health and fitness applications and more are in the offing.

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So, there is an app that can measure your calorie intake while another can track your physical activity. Yet another can throw up dietary suggestions after measuring your Body Mass Index (BMI) and still others can provide you with a good cardio chart.

People, especially the urban smartphone users whose hectic work life allows them very little time for exercise, are downloading such apps with enthusiasm in the hope of achieving "better" health.

Fitness apps: How fit are they?

But are these apps effective? According to fitness experts, such "virtual" apps can hardly be a replacement for "real" exercise, be it going to the gym or walking in the park.

"I do not think a smartphone application can make you healthy until you actually hit the gym. In our gym, not too many people use these apps to track their physical activity or metabolism," Vivek Soni, head trainer at Gold's Gym in New Delhi, told IANS.

Fitness apps may be useful for athletes because they have to constantly maintain a certain fitness level and require far more intense physical training than an average person.

"But for common people, these apps can't be very useful," Soni says.

There is another aspect too. Every person's dietary and training needs are different from anyone else.

But the free apps are designed in a 'one-size-fits-all' manner. So, it may be counter-productive to use these apps without expert supervision, experts warn.

"The smartphone apps are effective, but what kind of apps? The internet is flooded with information on health and fitness. But how would you know what is right for you and what is not?" Roshini Gilbert, transformation and rehabilitation coach at Bangalore-based online health solutions provider, asks.

"For an app to be truly effective, it must be tailor-made according to the specific needs and lifestyle of the user. A general app may be effective for some, but not for all," she noted.

According to a US-based study, gamification - or applying game design to non-game applications - is currently the popular trend for mobile fitness app makers looking to cash in on helping people get fit.

Fitness app enthusiasts, though, would be in for a disappointment if they go by the results of most of the recent studies done to fathom the efficacy of such apps.

"It has just been assumed that gamified apps will work, but there has been no research to show that they are effective for people in the long term," said Cameron Lister from Utah-based Brigham Young University.

Lister and health science professor Josh West analysed over 2,000 health and fitness apps and found that the majority of the most popular and widely used ones feature gamification.

As part of their study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, the duo personally downloaded and used 132 of the apps to examine how well they worked.

They found that gamification ignores key elements of behaviour change and could be demotivating in the long run.

"It is like people assuming that you hate health and you hate taking care of your body so they offer to give you some stuff in order for you to do what they want you to do," Lister noted.

According to the inaugural "2015 State of US Health & Fitness Apps Economy" report published by US-based research group ARC 360 late last year, many well-known brand apps were not favourites with consumers with some being rated as fair.

"Health and fitness brands with apps rated as fair need to expand testing out of the lab and into the real world," said the authors.

The experts believe more research needs to be carried out in an industry projected to hit close to the $3 billion mark by 2016.

So, the next time you download a health app, think about giving that early morning jog another thought.

Source: IANS

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