If you’re looking to be more proactive about your health and fitness, “there’s an app for that” rings true for you.
Some experts argue that health apps have the potential to make a broad impact on the health of the general population.
But, others explain that there's not enough evidence to support such claims and suggest that health apps may even be harmful.
John P. Higgins, MD, discusses health and fitness apps and whether they're good or bad for people who are already healthy.
RadioMD Presents: Train Your Body | Original Air Date: May 12, 2015
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest: John P. Higgins, MD
Your trainer Melanie Cole is here to motivate and help you perform. It's time now for Train Your Body.
MELANIE: You know, you see people wearing their little Fitbit, and there's all these health apps out there, and you think – Well, when I see them I think either one of two things. That, that person is really healthy, or that person wants that extra help, that extra push. Are those health apps beneficial for the more motivated of those people that you see, those runners out there, those cyclists that are out for a hundred miles?
My guest is Dr. John Higgins, sports cardiologist at UT Health Science Center. So, are health apps beneficial for healthy people too, Dr. Higgins?
DR HIGGINS: Yes, Melanie. I believe in the thing -- I believe it was Peter Druker, the businessman who said, "What gets measured gets improved." I think in the case of health apps, even people that have been healthy for a long time, and are working out on a regular basis, oftentimes, a lot of them don't know exactly how much they are doing, what type of workout, what type of calories they are burning. These can take them even to the next level, Melanie, of health and wellness.
MELANIE: "What gets measured gets improved." That's awesome. What an awesome statement, and it really sums up this whole topic. Really, that's brilliant Dr. Higgins.
DR HIGGINS: Oh, thank you.
MELANIE: So, when we look at those health apps out there, what do you want us to keep track of? Miles? Minutes? Food we eat? Food we stick into our mouths mindlessly? Things we did on the treadmill? Weights? What do you want us to keep track of?
DR HIGGINS: Well, I think you've mentioned it, Melanie, all of the above! In fact, there are set of new apps that are coming out, which are what we would call a comprehensive health and wellness app. That is, they are looking at not only how much activity you're doing during the day, making sure that you're getting the right activity; that you are getting the right amount; and what's coming into your body is the right stuff as well, whether it be the food you are eating, the beverages you are consuming; as well as making sure that you're getting good rest and sleep. This is the -- when we talk about health and wellness, exercise is a very important part, but these other parts cannot be left out of the jigsaw puzzle, Melanie, otherwise you may end up with someone who may be able to run an eight minute mile, but their cholesterol might be 400 and their chronically fatigued, because they are not sleeping properly.
MELANIE: Well, you know, so at the beginning people might be listening to us and saying, "Okay, I am not going to really freaking write everything down or keep track on an app--everything that I'm doing: all my walking, and all my eating, that's for the Type A's." But maybe it's something you do at the beginning if you're really trying to lose weight or you're trying to get in shape, or you're trying to do something fitness-wise. Don't you think at the beginning of any program, at least to get you going, that accountability is what's so important?
DR HIGGINS: You're right, Melanie, and in fact, this is the true power of apps, I think, is that they can give people very good and accurate assessment of what they're doing, feedback, and the person sees the positive results. This motivates them to stick with they're doing, and they want to achieve the next goal. So, maybe they're initial goal was, "Okay, I just want to get into an exercise program" and now they're starting to like it after a couple of months, and now the next goal may be "I want to get back to the weight I was when I was in my 20's or 30's." So, the apps can really help them with this, and they're getting smarter and faster. A lot of the apps now, Melanie, can differentiate between activities. So, they can tell, for example, if you're just walking, if you're jogging, if you're running, if you're cycling. You know, some of them now actually have devices that are waterproof, and they can go underwater and track people who are swimming. Definitely a great power of the apps Melanie is giving someone that fairly instant feedback. The other nice thing that a lot of them do too, Melanie, is they will send a summary, a daily summary and-or weekly summary, and it can be downloaded into your Google Medical app, so you can track very well what you're doing. Finally, Melanie, they will even remind you. Some of the apps will buzz you and give you a message, "Hey! You haven't gotten to your 10,000 steps today," or "Hey! It's been five hours since you were last active, get off your butt".
MELANIE: That's what I need. Now Dr. Higgins, my editors will kill me if I don't ask you to list some of the apps, some of your favorite of these health apps. These "minders". So, give us a list.
DR HIGGINS: Sure.
MELANIE: We only have about four minutes left, three minutes left, so list them off for us, baby!
DR HIGGINS: Okay. So, in terms of the -- someone who is doing cardio or running, there are a couple of great apps: Strava Running and Cycling. That can measure all of your activities, Nike+ Running, Runkeeper, and Runtastic. In terms of just tracking your overall activity, Fitbit is still one of my favorites. It can track lots of different things, from exercise, food intake, weight, sleep, and they’re only about $100 or so for the band, and it works wirelessly with your phone. There are also some great apps for those people that like to be part of a community. So, for example, Melanie, Fitocracy. This is this whole, huge community of literally a million people out there, and they have a little bit of competition between each other. You can also find out what good running tracks are in your neighborhood, or good places to walk, to bicycle. They kind of have little competitions within each other. The weight loss apps: Lose It, MyFitnessPal, Calorie Counter, and Weight Loss Coach. They can give you a lot of helping in terms of understanding the different energy patterns of foods and how to approach your diet. Fooducate is a great app where it will tell you the nutritional value of the food, and they have a scale from A-D. A is the great and D is avoid, and the nice thing about Fooducate is you can scan a barcode of the food when you're out grocery shopping, and it will give you the ranking. Let's say it's a D, Melanie, it's a flunk food. It'll actually suggest foods of the same type of food or categories that are grade A's so you can go and get the right thing.
MELANIE: That's awesome!
DR HIGGINS: Isn't that cool?
MELANIE: Yeah, that is so cool!
DR HIGGINS: Then Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock is a great one for tracking your sleep. Finally a couple of ones that I think are cool for people just starting out, Melanie, with exercise: Couch to 5K is a fun one. This will basically take someone who is a couch potato and it will prepare them within three months to run their first 5K or 3.1 mile. They have these really fun motivating virtual coaches that will actually, depending on what type of personality you have, they've got ones that'll get in your face like someone from New York.
MELANIE: The trainers that'll scream at you versus the trainers that'll just give you that motivational nudge.
DR HIGGINS: Right. So, depending on what you like. Finally, medical apps for people who just want to learn about their condition, WebMD is a fantastic app. It's free. It has lots of information about different conditions, and also gives you some idea about some of the treatments and some of the things to discuss with your doctor. So, I think those are some of my favorites, and there are ones coming out every day, and I think in the future, Melanie, look for the - what I'm going to call - the super app. I mean, we're starting to see them coming out now. That is, an app that will cover all aspects of health and wellness and integrate all of those things to give you an overall picture of where you are and how to be healthier. So, to quote our friend, the late Mr. Spock, so you can "Live long and prosper."
MELANIE: "Live long and prosper." One of my favorite quotes. So, "What can be measured can be improved." Apps that are out there, we're going to list them on our website. Great, great segment.
You're listening to Radio MD. Motivate and perform with the American College of Sports Medicine.
This is Melanie Cole, thanks for listening and, of course, stay well.