The market for health-related apps is one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy, with a current worth of at least $500 million. By 2020, it could easily reach five times that amount. A wide category that includes fitness, workout, general health, exercise tracking, nutrition, diet logging, caloric intake and much more, the segment grows by the day.
Technically speaking, the “fitness/health app” market includes all kinds of mobile-based applications that help people monitor and keep track of their physical activities using their smart phones. Calories burned during a workout, heart rate, hours slept, diet/fitness goal progress, and caloric intake are just a few of the data fields that can be manipulated and stored by the apps. The general idea is that consumers will be more motivated to maintain health and achieve fitness goals if they have detailed data about their daily activities.
Here are some of the most popular apps currently in use. Some are new for 2017, while others have been around for a few years. Note that in this lightning-fast industry, a four-year-old product is considered ancient.
My Fitness Pal (myfitnesspal.com)
Just about every online survey of health/fitness apps ranks MFP in the top ten or higher. The simple little app is packed with functionality like calorie and step counters. Not only can it scan barcodes, import recipes and search its own database of millions of foods, MFP allows users to track every iota of exercise and dietary data. MFP’s biggest advantage is ease of use, and it is great for those new to fitness apps.
For fitness and exercise enthusiasts, this app is heaven. It offers up more than 200 different kinds of exercises with video guides from professional trainers. There’s even a separate section for children and people with special workout needs. Users can pick a standard exercise routine or custom-build their own based on difficulty and time required. The beauty of the app is its ability to randomize routines so your body never has to endure the same old same old.
This clever app began as a workplace program and is based upon group or personalized training with coaching. There are downloadable training plans for 10K runs, calisthenics routines, and more, all of which can be shared with family and friends. Activex prides itself on being community based and easy to use.
Charity Miles (charitymiles.org)
An ingenious app that lets runners, walkers and cyclists earn money for designated charities when they exercise. Walkers and runners earn 25 cents per mile, cyclists get 10 cents per mile. Users can choose from many charitable organizations, including Wounded Warrior Project, Habitat for Humanity, and Feeding America.
PEAR Personal Coach (pearsports.com)
Pear is an audio-based coaching app that allows users to choose from a variety of workouts, listen to professional coaches guide them through a training session, and evaluate their performance. For those who want to learn the VO2 Max level, they can connect a simple heart rate monitor to and do a running test. The VO2 Max number is an important one for people who are serious about cardio fitness. It measures the rate and amount of oxygen your body can absorb in a given time period.
For the truly competitive runners and cyclists, Strava lets users compare their performance against others in the same geographical region on a “leader board” graphic. The app’s advantage is its detailed performance analysis function, as well as its ability to connect to Garmin so that users can compare their current stats to past data.
Fit Radio (fitradio.com)
Adding streamed music to a workout can make things move along much easier, especially for those intense cardio sessions. Fit Radio allows users to choose mixes based on heart rate and intensity level. You can choose by the type of workout, music genre, or DJ. All the basic functions are free, but more advanced choices come at a price. See the website for more information.
Map My Run (mapmyrun.com)
One of the early entrants into the fitness/health app market, MapMyRun allows runners and walkers to choose local routes based on mileage. You don’t have to be familiar with an area to pick the most scenic routes or the ones geared to your distance. MMR’s app is ideal for travelers who run or walk every day and like to know how many miles they’ve covered.
Lose It (loseit.com)
Lose It is one of the simplest and most useful apps for anyone on a diet. Users only need to input their goal weight and personal data once, and the app helps them keep track of their daily calorie allowances. You can scan barcodes or manually enter the calorie count of an item, enter your exercise session data, and then let the app gear your daily calorie allowance automatically. There’s never any guessing about whether you are progressing toward your goal weight with Lose It.
Runkeeper is a simple app for runners who want to know just the basics of their workouts. Its GPS-enabled system tracks distance, pace, time and more. There is an easy-to-use goal-setter “coach” that encourages runners to reach their predetermined mileage and pace requirements. For runners who don’t want to get bogged down with tons of analytics, Runkeeper is the preferred app.
This clever app contains more than 60,000 different recipes, each categorized by nutritional content. For those who want to track meal plans, calories, grocery lists and more, Athleats is a comprehensive little tool that has a wealth of functions. Users can also upload their own recipes so other owners of the app can try them.
All the above apps are either free or available for a small fee. Some have monthly charges for access to various databases. Be sure to check the apps’ website and read all the details before downloading and using.
Note that many of the above apps have both a free and a “premium” version that offers more functionality and larger databases. Some athletes and nutrition enthusiasts don’t want to be connected to a public database and thus avoid apps that emphasize “comparison charting,” (like Strava, for example).
Finally, realize that many fitness/health apps are able to synch with standard heart rate monitors. Sometimes, the dual use of a fitness app and a heart monitor is the ideal way to measure personal health.
Developers and independent app designers keep a close eye on what consumers want, and come up with apps for every conceivable area of human endeavor. What started out in the early 2000s with a few mileage loggers for runners and cyclists, the industry now offers apps so users can keep track of heart rate, brain waves, respiratory levels, dietary intake of every kind, miles walked/cycled/run, hydration needs, and any physical parameter that lends itself to data collection and recording. In 2017 and beyond, look for even more detailed versions of these general fitness apps.
Consumers who want to buy or download an app should check online reviews beforehand. The market is very crowded and there are plenty of sub-standard offerings out there. The good news is that almost all the popular health/fitness apps have plenty of reviews online so you can decide if an app if right for your needs.