Runkeeper: this app will keeping you moving!

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I’m not a natural runner. In high school, I slogged along, huffing and puffing, watching my friends in track sprint past me, getting through the long runs with a positive attitude, and happily discuss the “runner’s high.” Blech! I know running is an effective way to burn calories, and I can remember when it was a joy when I was a little kid. But as an adult, the enthusiasm I can muster is, “well, this sucks slightly less than it did 10 minutes ago.” On the other hand, I need to stay fit, and I have limited time, so running is a really efficient way to do so.

I’ve run with several apps, but Runkeeper (www.runkeeper.com) is my favorite so far. I’ve run with it on and off for about a year, but more seriously over the last few months. One way of sticking with running, I read, is to sign up for a race in the future, and pay for it. I did this, but then I needed to decide how to prepare for that race. Since I already had Runkeeper, and liked it, I decided to stick with it. I’ve recently compared running apps in a different blog, which you can find HERE. Today, I want to write more in depth about Runkeeper, and how it has been a game changer for me.

Runkeeper is free for the basic functions, but for the coaching and advanced functions, the cost is $9.99/mo or $39.99 per year. If you might use the app for more than four months, it is a better deal to sign up for a year at a time. I think it is worth it. This is the longest I have stuck with running, and have noticed that my running times have significantly improved, just by getting out there three times a week.

Runkeeper can map your run, showing you where you were, how long it took, and what speed and average speed you were running. If you have the newer GPS version Apple Watch, you can leave your phone at home, and Runkeeper can manage your run from your watch. If you do not have the newest Apple Watch, you can still leave the phone at home, but it won’t be able to map your run. Allegedly it can still measure your distance- I imagine the way a FitBit does, which is perhaps a little less accurate in distance (which is what studies generally show about the Fitbit: better for steps, less so for distance). I always bring my phone, so I haven’t tested this out yet.

Runkeeper, like many other running apps, can also play music via the app- either the music from your iPhone, or Spotify, which is very nicely integrated into the app. Spotify and Runkeeper work together to measure your speed, and play music that matches your pace to encourage you. However, I have not been able to use this where I am running, because there is no cell service. Instead, I have been listening to podcasts (the Tim Ferris show!) which are NOT integrated into the app. To listen to podcasts, you download the podcast (unless you have sufficient cell service), then start the podcast, then start Runkeeper. Runkeeper doesn’t control the podcast, but it is easy enough to adjust the volume separately. I would love it if Runkeeper could integrate this into the app rather than having to use this hack to get it to work, but for now, it works fine my way.

I have been using the 5K coach plan- the plan is written by Jeff Galloway, a very well respected runner and running teacher. The plan starts off with walking and running two days a week, with a slightly longer weekend run. After each interval, a voice through my headphones instructs me what I should be doing -“One minute- walk!” The intervals are progressively getting longer for running and shorter for walking, until the end, when I assume I will be running the whole thing. The intervals started off easy enough that I wasn’t huffing and puffing, and they have moved towards running slowly enough that I feel like I can keep up. On the other hand, my running times have improved, and each step feels challenging as well. The app reminds me the night before when I have a run coming up the next day. For the first time in a REALLY long time, I am enjoying running. I like the chance to get out and run, burn off some calories, and catch up on podcasts. I can click on each run and see what my approximate speed was at any given time, how many calories I burned, etc. I have not used all the data that it gives me, but maybe when I get more advanced at running! Allegedly the app also works for biking, but I have not tried it.

I can also cheer on friends -live, if you have the paid version. After each run, it gives me the opportunity to comment on the run, and can post it to social media (though I don’t), and let my friends also on Runkeeper know that I have gone for a run. This has been a little bit like hearing a tree fall in the woods -does it make a noise- because no one I know is running right now!

A few other nice aspects of the app are that it integrates with many calorie trackers, as well as Apple’s own Health Data. There is an Apple Watch app, which mainly does everything that you might need while you are out running- tells you splits, how long you have been running, lets you pause the app, etc. I use the Apple Watch app every time. You can join challenges (I’ve signed up to do the “I am a Runner Challenge” and the “January 5K” challenges, which completing means I am entered into a drawing for free UnderArmour Gear. When I hit a new milestone, I’ve received an email congratulations, and a coupon for 20% off running gear, which is pretty fun.

I am planning to keep using this app. I’m really happy with my progress, and with the coaching plan. Is anyone else using Runkeeper?

Using an app to streamline meals at home

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We cook nearly every day at home- it’s MUCH healthier, since restaurant meals are loaded with extra calories and sodium, and are much larger than the normal home cooked meal.  It is also much less expensive to eat at home, generally. However, we have a busy family with two adults who work full-time! How can technology help?

  • One obvious way is to use a service like Blue Apron, or similar, that delivers meal components that you then assemble at home. The cost of this can be much higher than what you would make on your own.
  • You can make a list and order your groceries on-line through a service like Peapod, then make your food at home. The cost of delivery can be $7 or more, which is still reasonable. However, we have been unhappy with the quality of the groceries, and sometimes have trouble anticipating when we will be home for the delivery.
  • You can make a list, grocery shop, bring the groceries home and make dinner. This is the cheapest, but also the most time consuming. For us, time is a premium.

Our family has found a very streamlined way to shop and cook with minimal expense. First of all, everyone who is an adult in the household has the app Paprika ($4.99, https://paprikaapp.com). I love this app. There are several “recipe box” type apps, but I like Paprika because it can accept recipes from any website. I am always finding recipes online at different websites, but they all have their own proprietary “recipe box.” Paprika can merge these altogether.

  1. Each week, we make a menu plan, which is easy, because you can assign the meal to a specific day. You press the shopping cart button at the top of the recipe, and presto! The ingredients appear in your shopping cart, organized by the section of the store they would be found. By syncing, the shopping list and all other changes are pushed to every adults’ iOS device.
  2. Then, someone orders groceries online from the local supermarket. For us, at Harris Teeter, this is a $4.95 charge to collect all our groceries, bag them, and bring them to refrigerated cases in front of the store, which are locked. We choose a time to pick up the groceries, but this is quite flexible. We can choose meals based on what is on sale in our store. The store calls us if there are substitutions that need to be made, and I have noticed the quality seems to be better than the delivery services in our area.
  3. At the appointed time, one of us drives up to the front of the store, rings the bell, and someone loads the groceries into our car, while our payment is being processed.
  4. Whomever is home first starts the meal, which is pre-planned on Paprika now, with the recipe in the app. We use an old iPad as a dedicated “cookbook” for our kitchen.

That’s it! How do you make meals more efficient? Let me know in the comments below.

FitStar by FitBit: worth the cost?

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I use the FitStar app on my iPhone to get a daily work out in, five days a week in the morning, and run three days a week in the evening. I was therefore, surprised when I started up FitStar one morning this week, and found an entirely new app.  A lot has changed in the app, both good and bad, in my opinion. It seems like FitBit has purchased the app, because it is now “FitStar by FitBit” and Fitbit is in the icon.

The most superficial part is that the icon has changed, from the red star on white background, to a black and blue icon.  The previous app guided you through workouts, based on your goals, age, and the results of your fitness test, with reassuring voiceovers by Tony Gonzales. Where is Tony Gonzalez now? I liked him. Anyway, with the new app, you choose one of two coaches, Lea or Adrian. I can’t tell if it makes much difference which coach you choose. My instinct was to choose the female coach, so I stretched my limits and picked the male coach.

The exercises are different now- I haven’t seen any of the “star skaters- it’s almost like an extreme version of the curtsy”  (you’ll laugh if you had been doing FitStar before the update!) but there are a lot of really challenging exercises. They are mostly well explained, though the design of the app has some kind of overlay on top of of the video that makes it occasionally hard to see. The exercises start immediately after the demonstration, mostly so fast that if you are new to the exercise, it is hard to get in position before they start. I usually miss the first exercise of the set, I’ve noticed, but I anticipate that this will improve as I become more familiar with the exercises.

I like that you can choose a more efficient or more challenging routine that day depending on your time and motivation- before, if you were in a program- “get lean” or “get strong” for instance, you were stuck doing exactly what the next routine in the series was. Some days, I feel like doing more, or have less time. I think this results in doing the routines more often, because if I have less time, I can do a shorter routine instead of skipping it altogether because I don’t have time for what the plan had intended for me.

The increased integration with FitBit now allows the app to adjust your workout depending on what you did with the Fitbit the day before- if it knows you pushed it on a long run, it might suggest something easier the next day. I don’t think this works if you’re not using a FitBit-I use an Apple Watch, for instance.

Speaking of Apple Watch, it has also dropped the apple watch app. Truth be told, I didn’t use the app that often, since it had limited functionality, but I did like how it could tell you how many of each exercise were supposed to be in the set. To make up for this, there’s a new option to add a “ticking” sound to each rep, so I just keep up with the sounds to get the right number of reps. This has the effect of making the routine more challenging as well, as I am doing the reps slower and using more muscle power on the negative, which is good.

I think the subscription cost has stayed the same- $7.99 per month. I think it’s a good value, especially right now, while I’m away from home for an extended period of time. When I get back home, where I can go to the gym before work, I’ll quit the subscription.

Overall, I think this has been a good change. It would be nice if it could give you the workout adjustment aspect if you’re not using a FitBit. It would also be nice if the Apple Watch app was reintroduced with more functionality, perhaps using it’s ability to measure heart rate. And give us Tony Gonzalez back!

Resolution #4: Read more this year!

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In this series, we have talked about how to make resolutions, how to troubleshoot lagging resolutions, and then, apps to support common resolutions: losing weight, running, getting finances in order…This is the last of the series. Reading more is a common resolution, and this one, I’m an expert in!  I read both paper books and electronic books.

I use two reading apps every day: the Kindle App and Goodreads. I do a lot of my reading on the Kindle, both a Kindle device (the Voyager) and the kindle app on my iPad. I actually prefer reading on the actual Kindle if I have it with me because I find the e-ink is easier to read, but also, there are less distractions. My iPad has Facebook, email, etc, and I find myself checking them more often than I would like. I don’t like iBooks as much. I find the page turning lags, and the book selection is not as extensive as Amazon’s.

I both read and annotate books in the Kindle app, and when I am finished with a book, I go to www.kindle.amazon.com, to cut and paste my highlights and notes into a note in Evernote. In that way, all the highlights are fully searchable and in one place. You can just use the Evernote clipper, but I prefer to have one book per note in Evernote.

I also borrow books on my Kindle. I find people are often surprised you can borrow books from the library on your kindle, but as long as your library has an e-library, most of the time, you can borrow them within the kindle. If the books are not available on the kindle, you can usually use an app called Overdrive, which can manage library books- and is in some ways easier to borrow books on, but doesn’t allow you to read them on different devices like the Kindle app does. After the allotted time, usually two weeks, the book disappears from your kindle, but the highlights remain.

Goodreads is another app I use all the time. I have a reading list which is probably longer than the time I have left on this earth. Every time I hear a new book suggestion that I am interested in, I put it in the Goodreads app, which is a social media site for readers. You can write reviews, read others’ reviews on books, and get suggestions for books you would be interested in. Also, if you’re hoping to read more this year, you can set a Reading Challenge goal for yourself. If you have a book on your to-read list that goes on sale, Goodreads will alert you, which is nice.

I also have a few resources I regularly find books in. The first is Bookmarks magazine, which basically compiles reviews of books, in a sort of book review meta-analysis. They have great suggestions. The other resources I use daily are www.earlybirdbooks.com and www.booklemur.com which are free services. You sign up for the services, choosing what subjects you are interested in reading about, and they email you a list daily of books in those subjects that are on sale, usually about $1-$3, which is a substantial savings!

Are you a reader? What apps do you use? Connect with me on Goodreads here.

Resolution #3: Get your finances under control!

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First of all, Happy New Year!

This is probably the most difficult of the new year’s resolution series for me (not directly mental health related), but I think maybe one of the most important- finances. I think along with losing weight (blog #3 in this series), getting out of debt and getting finances under control is a frequently made resolution. There are so many apps out there that it is difficult to know where to start in terms of reviews.

A first step, an app which you probably already have is the app for your own bank. A lot of these online services have bill pay, the ability to input upcoming bills, and make budgets. However, if you feel you need something else, consider one of the other apps.

I like Mint (www.mint.com), which is free. I used to use Quicken, which I loved, and Quicken is mostly replaced now by Mint. Mint can sync with your bank, credit cards, investments, and give you an up-to-date idea of your finances. You get a free credit score with them, and the app will help you make budgets and financial goals. You can get emails and notifications when you are behind in your goals, or over your budget. It can be hard to plan forward, however, with Quicken, because though it does have the ability to input expenses which have not cleared your bank, it isn’t always the best at recognizing the expense once it does clear- creating a double entry. Also, you have to be a little vigilant about making sure that your expenses are going in the right budget categories, though it mostly gets them correct. There is an Apple Watch version, too.

If you’re planning to use the Dave Ramsey method of financial management, but want to use your ATM card still, I found You Need A Budget to be very helpful (www.youneedabudget.com). The apps are free, but they sync to the desktop version, which is $50 per year. This one lends itself to the idea of the envelopes of cash earmarked for a specific purpose very well, and also syncs to your bank. The YNAB on-line bulletin board community is very active/helpful, and their customer service was quite good. A friend who paid off all his debt through the Dave Ramsey method also sings the praises of this app as well. There are free classes (budgeting, debt reduction, etc) via their website and I think this app has more of an educational angle, so if you’re clueless where to start, this can be a good place, along with bankrate.com, to get some information. There’s no Apple Watch app.

If you’re interested in trying to get control of your finances, but prefer the low-tech method, I also like the templates from www.vertex42.com. They have some great forms to use for budgeting and money management. When I need a calendar or spreadsheet for budgeting, this is usually my first stop.

I’m interested in what other people use for financial management- let me know in the comments below! There are so many apps, I would love your input!

Resolution #2: Run more often!

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Since we talked about weight loss apps in the last blog of the series, it makes sense to review apps from another common, related resolution: running. Some might try simply to start running, while others want to run more often, or a specific distance.

There are good reasons to run for exercise. A recent study suggested that running may help your brain make connections possibly because running requires more than putting one foot in front of the other, but rather, planning the terrain, pace, etc. Running is helpful for mental health, and losing weight. Running helps build toughness and resilience. If you join a running group, running can help you make social connections- I’ve found that runners tend to be a friendly group of people!

Apps are especially nice for running, because they can help you track distance, time, route, but also suggest running programs. There are different apps for different types of runners as well.

One I’ve always liked is the Nike + Run Club app (free, www.nike.com), because it adds a competitive component to my running, but also has nice integration with music, and had the ability for friends to cheer you on with “likes” during your run. It was also one of the few I found that measured treadmill running accurately. However, the new version of this may not be as accurate, based on the recent reviews. If you have the new Nike + apple watch, it might be a no-brainer anyway, but I would consider a different app until the reviews improve. Also, it does not integrate with some of the most popular calorie counters, like myfitnesspal, which is why I stopped using it.

Another running tracker is Endomondo (www.endomondo.com, basic app free, premium app costs extra). This one is very popular, and I guarantee you at least one friend is on this app. In order to set a specific goal, you have to have a premium app. I used this one for some time, and was unhappy with the accuracy. It integrates with most calorie trackers, though, and has an apple watch app. It also tracks a lot of different activities, not just running.

Do you have trouble getting started? Maybe you can make running more fun by “gamifying” it. The concept is that you combine the points and achievements of a game with a habit- something that I’ve been seeing more often. The most popular of these is Zombies, Run! (free app, more for premium version, www.zombiesrungame.com). I’ve tried these, and thought they were fun, but I’m a little wimpy and afraid of Zombies, anyway- no “the Walking Dead” for me! They are worth a try if you’re a gamer, and having trouble getting out, or need some extra fun and incentive.

If you’re running a 5k, there are several apps that will help you track “couch to 5k.” The classic one is “ Couch to 5K running app” -catchy, eh? It costs $1.99 (www.active.com) but is part of the active.com website, where you can also look for and sign up for your 5K race, and use their extensive fitness calculators.

Many of the running apps have running programs, including 5K, marathons and everything in between, built into the program. My favorite running app, and the one I use now, is Runkeeper (free, but extra for premium plans, www.runkeeper.com). I’ve been quite happy with it, and here’s why:

  • It’s very accurate, even in the out of the way, rural place that I am writing this from, with little to no cell phone reception.
  • It has an Apple Watch app, and integrates with my calorie tracker.
  • The running plans are designed by famous running coaches, like Jeff Galloway
  • It is easy to use.
  • As I run, I earn bonuses- I just got a 20% off coupon running gear!

There are so many running apps- which one do you use?

Resolution #1: Lose weight!

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In the first blog of this series, we talked about writing better resolutions, which are specific, measurable, timed, and have a “why.” In the second blog of the series, we talked about ways to be more accountable in your goals, and general goal tracking apps. The remaining blogs of the series will review apps for specific goals.

I think the most common New Year’s resolution is to lose weight. Not surprisingly, the iTunes store is flooded with calorie trackers! I’d like to narrow it down.

  1. Fitbit (www.fitbit.com): free app. If you have a fitbit, this is a no-brainer. The app has evolved a lot since I bought my Fitbit One a few years ago, with it’s oh-so-stylish belt clip. It tracks activity, sleep, food, hydration…Most people who use this app seem to love it since the upgrades, but there were a few complaints about being buggy. I used it when I had a fitbit and was very pleased with it. I also used the desktop version with no problems.
  2. Weight Watchers (www.weightwatchers.com): app free, requires subscription. This is probably the program I recommend the most often as a physician since it has good science behind it, as well as the meeting accountability. However, I’ve used just the online version ($3.84 per week) and felt that it was no different than any other tracker- it’s the meeting that makes the difference. Since I used this last, they have a one on one coaching program, that’s around $10 per week with the app that I probably would do instead. I have to be up front- I found the points confusing, and felt irritated with “I have four points left- what can I eat with four points” because I’m so used to eating in terms of calories and the points system was not intuitive for me. There is an apple watch version.
  3. Lose it! (www.loseit.com): app free, $4.99 for premium that adds more content, meal planning and better integration for health problems like diabetes. This is the classic app, the one that you read articles about “I lost 10 lbs using an app.” They’ve kept improving it since then, with great tools to help you lose weight. However, the integration with other apps isn’t as good as some other apps (for instance, I use FitStar for my workouts, and it doesn’t integrate with this app, so I would have to manually input my workout into Lose it!). On the other hand, adding meals is a pleasure, and it suggests calorie targets for each meal. As you input meals, it adjusts the targets- for instance, if you exceed your target for lunch, it reduces lunch and dinner accordingly. Brilliant. It has groups built into the app. There is also an apple watch version. Syncs with with the fitbit and the Nike Run Club (an app I really like that doesn’t sync to that many calorie counters).
  4. Calorie Counter and Fitness Tracker by myFitnessPal (myfitnesspal.com): free app, premium content $9.99 which includes no ads, ability to change macronutrients, etc. Has there ever been a worse name change from MyFitnessPal (short, catchy) to this long, drawn out name? I’ve been using this app, partly because it integrates with so many other apps and my apple watch. It also syncs to the fitbit, but not the Nike Run Club. Has a nice community dash board for encouragement from friends, and challenges. The online version is good, too, if you want to input food from your laptop.

My choice: If you’re willing to spend the money and go to meetings, I’d choose Weight Watchers. If you have a fitbit, the fitbit app is worth using since you can track sleep in that app, but as far as I know, not other apps. However, you can use the fitbit with all of the other trackers here, and if sleep is not important to track for you, I like all of the other food trackers better. I think in the end, it comes down to what apps you are using for exercise, and whether the calorie counter is compatible. I’m impressed enough with Lose It! to consider switching, and inputting my fit star calories separately, but I also have a community built up in myFitnessPal.

What apps are you using?