A month or so ago, I tried playing a “behavioral change game” called SuperBetter. I really liked the game, and it seemed to have a lot of potential for helping me reach and maintain life goals including maintaining healthy weight and activity levels. Unfortunately, SuperBetter had some problems that made it less than ideal for me. SuperBetter lacked an Android app and the forums were not supported and did not work. After a few weeks, I found myself working for hours to personalize the SuperBetter game, and I ended up with an inefficient activities tracker.
I gave up on SuperBetter, but not on the idea of the “gamification” of my health and wellness. There are dozens of tech options out there to help people with maintaining their health. I decided to find the ones that would work for me, and report on them here. As I researched my options, a few things became clear:
- The lack of an Android app had been very annoying when I played SuperBetter. If a system depended on me using my phone, it had to have an Android app.
- I didn’t rule out systems that weren’t dependent on my phone, though. My phone is big and lives in my purse, not my pocket, and many systems that depend upon your phone’s GPS are battery drainers. This kind of system might not be the best choice for me.
- Some exercise apps require a larger screen size than a phone (e.g. demonstrating exercises). These apps needed to have an app for iPad or the capability to run on a PC.
- I didn’t want a system that used competition between people as a motivator (e.g. Fitocracy). This isn’t motivating for me. I would rather compete against myself and my goals.
- I didn’t want a system that involved betting of any kind (e.g. GymPact). I’m allergic to gambling, and have trouble betting even a nickle.
- I didn’t want a system that cost more than a few dollars to try, but apps that let you buy more options later, and systems that included a separate device like FitBit were okay.
The systems/apps I considered fell into four categories. There were apps that provided workouts you could do in your home, there were apps that tracked your food intake and activities levels and provided a social community for support, there were systems that used GPS technology to track your activity and save the data on your computer for analysis, and there was one game.
Three apps that provide home workouts or digital personal training are Gain Fitness, Sworkit, and Gorilla Workout. They provide workouts at all levels of fitness. They are all free or inexpensive. I started with the 99 cent options and can choose to add more workouts later that cost between $2 to $10. They all have demonstrations of the exercises, so I can check my form easily. None of them require special equipment or lots of space. I don’t want to use this type of app on my phone because it is just too small. I downloaded Sworkit and Gorilla Workout to my iPad and will use Gain Fitness on my PC.
Two apps were food trackers, LoseIt and myfitnesspall. LoseIt had been recommended to me by a friend who uses it, and it looked like a great system for tracking your food intake, but I am more interested in tracking my activity. Myfitnesspal seemed like a better choice both as a food tracker and an activities tracker and has the ability to sync with both the FitBit (recommended by another friend) and another exercise app called Sworkit, which I am also testing.
There are a few systems out there that act as high-tech pedometers to track how much you move your body every day. Nike, Garmin, and Jawbone all have their versions, but FitBit comes highly recommended by a friend, has great reviews, and seems like a better deal when compared to the others. I must admit I am excited about the possibility of having my FitBit track my movements and sync the results to myfitness pal and Sworkit. I will see if it really works.
Finally, the game. I have no doubt The Walk would motivate me to walk more. It is an adventure game that starts when a “bomb explodes in Inverness station, and you’re given a package that could save the world. To stay alive, you’ll need to walk the length of the UK.” As you walk more and more miles, you get more and more of the story. I KNOW this would work for me because I learned to type years ago using a game called “Typing Intrigue” based on the same principle. Unfortunately, the app uses your phone as a pedometer and according to many reviews, the pedometer doesn’t work very well and the app is plagued with problems. I am not going to try this app right now even though it is only $2.99, but I am going to look for one like it that works with FitBit.
So now I have to purchase a Fitbit, set up accounts, and get started. I will report back on how these systems/apps worked or didn’t work. If any of you have used these apps/systems, I am open to advice.