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?

Take a deep breath: 5 meditation apps reviewed

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Meditation and mindfulness seems like the new buzzword: mindfulness for toddlers, mindfulness in 8 weeks, 3 days to mindful, etc! But mindfulness is actually a really old practice, and I first encountered it more than twenty years ago in the books of Thich Nhat Hanh. Also called Thay by his students, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King, Jr in the 1960’s. He teaches that mindfulness is a practice that you bring everywhere- while you’re walking, doing the dishes, etc, and not only sitting cross-legged on a mat. Relatively new, however, is learning and practicing meditation from an app.

Why learn meditation? I recommend a meditation practice to many of my patients, along with talk therapy and sometimes medication if needed. A nice run-down of the research can be found on the American Psychological Association’s website (below), but studies have found that patients have less anxiety, improved stress, get upset less often, and feel more compassionate and empathetic towards others (which, not surprisingly, translates to better relationships). There are also benefits to memory and focus, whch may be why meditation has also been found in studies recently to be helpful for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Another interesting fact: I’m reading Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris right now, where he boils down the wisdom of billionaires, Olympians, etc, and 80% of the people he interviewed have some kind of mindfulness practice!

Let me make it clear that NEARLY every app I looked at says it is the “Number one meditation app!” and “found in the pages of…” Using the app store, I looked for the top grossing and downloaded apps. I reviewed five based on this, downloading them onto my iPhone, and practicing with them. Of the apps below, Headspace, Calm, and Omvana have apple Watch support.

  1. Headspace (www.headspace.com): app is free, subscription costs about $12.99 per month, but less if you sign up for a year or more. You get 10 free initial sessions with the app. This app had my favorite narrator, Andy Puddicombe, who had a relaxing, approachable voice. Appears to be the app most often used in research studies on using an app for meditation. Has a foundation course with three levels, then series for health,, performance, relationships etc. Cute interface, with mini-monsters.
  2. Calm: meditation to relax and focus (www.calm.com): free app, subscription based at $12.99 per month, $59.99 per year. Programs and individual sessions for all skill levels.  Lovely, simple interface with nature photos; a daily meditation that changes each day (on Christmas Eve, this was “festivity”), has guided and unguided meditation with nature sounds. You choose your nature sound behind the meditation, and then the meditation occurs over the top of the sound. Could be annoying for some. Friendly sounding narrator- is she smiling while she talks? Unique to this app were sleep stories- basically low key bedtime stories read to you. There are also meditations for kids. Just eight meditations are available with free app without subscription.
  3. Meditation studio (www.meditationstudioapp.com): $3.99, 5 star rating on iTunes, ability to schedule your sessions, clean attractive interface. 200 different meditations. No subscription required. Examples: meditation for beginners, happiness, helping your change habits. Multiple different teachers, from different walks of life- meditation teachers, monks, yoga teachers,  (Rodney and Colleen Yee, Beryl Bender Birch). Nice: meditations for mom, kids, veterans, first responders. Can superimpose meditation over nature sounds.
  4. Stop, Breathe and Think (www.stopbreaththink.org): Free app, but subscription based. $4.99 per month, 10% of revenue goes to a non profit, Tools for Peace to help at risk youth learn mindfulness and meditation. Basic meditations are free. I’ve used this one for a long time, and really like it- it has K.D. Lang music on some of the apps! However, it used to be a free app that you purchased a limited number of meditations available, but has recently switched to the subscription model. Even with the meditations I purchased in the past, there are less than in the Meditation Studio app.
  5. Omvana: (www.omvana.com): app free, meditations are charged per series or class. Store is iTunes like, with a wide variety of options for different classes available for purchase, around $3.99 to $5.99 or so, or a $7.99 per month subscription. If you sign up, you get 25 free meditations. I wasn’t impressed with the store on my Macbook air, which had several broken links and loaded samples indefinitely- the iphone version worked better. This seems to be a common theme as the iTunes reviews are either ecstatic or angry because the app and store were buggy. It crashed on my iPhone after limited use (twice). Some of the courses are kind of cheesy: “The Art of Sexual Invitation”, etc. 4.5 star rating. Integrates with the health kit.

My choice: I kept the Meditation Studio app on my phone. If I subscribed to a service, I would probably choose Calm, unless the Omvana store and app become less buggy in the future. Tell me what you think in the comments below! Have you tried any of these apps? Or do you use a different app?

(http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner.aspx)