Saturday, January 13, 2018

Fit and healthy

Although my blog is mostly dedicated to posts about education and about how technology can transform learning, I occasionally blog about how I'm using technology in other areas of my life as well.  For example recently I've been trying out several new sleep apps, as I've been awake at night worrying about the situation with my mother, whose dementia has progressed to the point where she is really not safe to be alone any more.  I've also written about mindfulness apps, travel maps and apps that I've used when travelling, and other apps designed to improve the lives of people with dementia.   Since the summer I've also been trying out a variety of apps to help me stay physically fit and healthy, and this post is going to review some of my favourites.

Back in May, I decided I would start to walk 5km per day as part of a self-care regime.  Almost every day in Mumbai I go down to Joggers' Park, right on the edge of the Arabian Sea, and walk 12 times round a 400 metre track.  The first app I needed was one that would calculate how far I walked, rather than having to count the laps as I walked around the track.  I've been using the Steps app for quite a while now - it's simple and I like the way it changes colour as you approach your goal (mine is set at 10,000 steps a day. which is actually quite a bit more than 5km).  It's simple and easy to use, without sounds, messages or other clutter to distract you.  You can also upgrade the app cheaply (£1.99) to track calories, though I haven't done this.  Generally this is a simple, free app and it does everything that I want to to do right now.

One evening as I was walking around the park I met up with another colleague from school who recommended another app to me called Lose It.   This is also a free app, that lets you track the calories you eat, and enter the exercise you do (so I enter the data from the Steps app into it each day).  To get started with this app you enter your details and your goal weight/date, and the app automatically calculates the daily calorie budget you need to achieve that.  There is a huge database of foods, and there is also the possibility of scanning in barcodes of food that you eat, or photographing your food.  The app contains various challenges (none of which I've done) and you can also challenge friends privately.  I like the way that the app adjusts the daily calorie total based on the amount of exercise you do (so I have told myself I will only have an ice-cream on days where I'm still "in the green" zone - if I'm not there it's an incentive for me to do a bit more exercise!)  Your achievements are tracked daily, but are shown in weeks, so you can in fact eat a little more one day and then balance it out over the rest of the week to stay within your target.  There's a premium version of the app ($3.33 per month) which I don't use as I find the free app is fine for what I need.  Also, from previous posts you will know my thoughts about monthly payments versus a one time purchase.  You can find out more about Lose It on their website.

Sometimes, at the end of the day, I'm a little bit over my target for calorie consumption - or perhaps it's been the sort of day where I haven't been able to get down to the park for a walk.  What I've now started to do is to use an app called Seven, that was recommended to me by my son over the Christmas holidays.  This app is also free!  These 7 minute workouts, designed to be done daily for 7 months, are based on scientific studies that give the maximum benefit in the shortest time possible.  If you subscribe to the Seven Club you can get personalised workout plans for goals such as getting fit, losing weight or becoming stronger.  The workouts are designed to be done anywhere and at any time as long as you have a chair and a wall.  With Seven I get an alert at 8 pm each night if I haven't done my 7 minutes of exercise that day.  The basic workout consists of a full body workout of 12 exercises (jumping jacks, plank, wall sit, lunges, squats etc). 
Each activity is done for 30 seconds with a 10 second rest in between.  Personally I love Seven.  I'm totally convinced that no matter how tired I'm feeling, I can do anything for 7 minutes.  The subscription to the Seven Club costs $9.99 per month or $79.99 for one year.  With the free app you get the basic daily workout, plus another one that is free on that day.  Some of these free ones seem really intensive (Extreme Cardio) others such as the one I did a couple of days ago are called Easy Fit and are a good mix of exercises that complements the basic Full Body workout.  The app is gamified to keep you motivated.  You start with 3 hearts, and every day you miss a workout you lose a heart.  If you lose all 3 hearts in a month your progress resets to zero, and you have to start over again.  Each month you get 3 new hearts.  Click here to find out more about Seven on their website.

The final app that I'm going to review today is Yoga Studio.  I was lucky enough to purchase this app some time ago, but now I see that, similar to other fitness apps, it's now being offered as a monthly subscription.  This subscription is fairly cheap ($1.99 for a month, $19.99 for a year) but I was grateful I'd already purchased it and could access all the yoga classes simply by clicking on Restore Purchase.  This app contains around 80 easy-to-follow HD video yoga classes at 3 different levels and for different lengths of time (15 minutes to 1 hour), as well as guided meditations and yoga for specific conditions such as back pain, strength and flexibility. 
Once you have downloaded the classes you can play them anywhere without needing an internet connection.  The yoga pose library contains 280 poses with images and information on the benefits of each pose and how to modify the pose for beginners.  There are also pose blocks which consist of sequences of poses such as the Sun Salutation.  For more information visit the Yoga Studio website.

While I've been going to gyms, fitness and yoga classes for years, this is the first time that I've ever tried to customise my own fitness programme using apps.  Generally I feel it works to be able to take a short "class" or set of exercises at a time and place convenient to me (this tends to be at home in the evenings) rather than having to work my schedule around a class being held in a gym.  One downside is the lack of community - though in my case this has been my choice because so far I've chosen to use the free versions of the apps rather than actually take out a subscription.  I would like to say, however, that the paid options are very attractive when compared with a regular club or gym membership or buying individual classes.  One thing I want to monitor closely over the coming months is whether these apps sustain my motivation, and whether I feel they are effective in keeping me fit.  A lot relies on will-power when you are trying to keep fit in isolation, rather than being in a class with others.  As I'm leaving India this year for new opportunities, I'm really hoping that these good habits, built up now, will allow me to continue to be fit and healthy in the future.

Do you have favourite apps for health and fitness?  If so please share these in the Comments.

Photo - Arabian Sea from Joggers' Park, Bandra, Mumbai, India

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