Finding Life-Changing Apps
Applications for your smartphone can help you lose weight, exercise more, manage your health, and pursue other life-changing goals.
"The sky is the limit, but it all comes down to how well and how often you use those applications to achieve your goals," says Sara Meaney, president of strategy and growth at Hanson Dodge Creative, Milwaukee.
Smartphone applications can be effective at helping to change behavior because they take advantage of the powerful, pocket-sized computer that many consumers carry with them wherever they go.
Meaney says the best apps for life-changing goals combine reliable information with positive reinforcement. That reinforcement might include earning "badges" or similar rewards for specific behavior, or linking you to other users with similar goals.
Earning the electronic equivalent of a "gold star" might seem trivial, but Meaney says the cycle of reinforcement and reward can sustain change among users aiming to replace entrenched habits with healthier behaviors.
Gaining a fitness habit is easier with the right app to help you.
Walkers, runners, and bikers can use programs such as iMapMyFitness to create exercise objectives, track miles, follow a training regimen, and encourage each other.
Some apps home in on a particular fitness approach, such as the free Android and iPhone app iMapMyRun that tracks a runner's progress and even sends friendly emails if the runner fails to hit the pavement for several days.
Bicyclists can use the free StravaCycling application to track rides, compete with friends, and get maps of popular routes.
Kelsey, a student at Colorado State University in Fort Collins who plans to work in the fitness field, uses the Nike Training Club app to access 60 workouts from professional trainers. Apps like Daily Ab Workout FREE or Daily Arm Workout FREE help her target specific muscle groups.
For yoga lovers, Pocket Yoga offers routines to music in the setting of your choice.
If you're trying to lose weight, Kelsey recommends Lose It!, which helps users set weight-loss goals and then record food intake. A bar chart indicates how far you've advanced in the day's allotment of calories, remaining green while calories are left but turning red when it's time to stop eating.
Apps including ads that appear on your phone often contain privacy and security risks.
Catherine, who works for a cooperative that helps companies promote healthier living to their employees, relies on Fooducate to "grade" foods and get healthy alternatives for poor choices.
If you have difficulty picking healthy entrées while eating out, consider the Restaurant Nutrition app, which combines nutrition information for major chain restaurants with a profile that lets you track eating.
Most weight loss apps require you to enter information about your diet, but the iPhone app ThinCam allows users to submit photos of food, which are used to perform a dietary analysis and offer tips for better choices.
Quitting smoking is a difficult task, but it's vital if smokers want to improve their health. MyQuit Coach is a low-cost app that helps you create a personalized plan, track progress, and access motivational tips. The free Quitter app tallies your savings from going tobacco-free.
Medical advice from a reputable source is available free with the WebMD app, which lets you enter symptoms and then offers information about possible causes, conditions, and treatments.
If you worry that you've forgotten how to do CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) or other first-aid basics, you can get a quick review with Pocket First Aid, a low-cost app available from the American Heart Association.
Another low-cost app, Pet First Aid, offers tips for urgent care and provides a journal for recording pet health.
Apps also can help people gain a habit of lifelong learning. For example, Google Sky Map and SkyView let you hold your smartphone up to the starry night sky to learn the names of planets, stars, and constellations.
Reading reviews at app stores can highlight good features and alert you to flaws.
For parents, apps can be a high-tech replacement for flashcards. Meaney uses KidCalc while traveling or waiting for appointments to help her 7-year-old improve math skills.
"It makes our lives a little more enjoyable while offering the convenience of accomplishing more things in a shorter period of time," Meaney says.
Apps for smarter living
Many users move beyond health and wellness to explore smartphone apps that improve everyday living. You can use apps to:
Picking good apps
Before you download any app, Meaney says reading reviews at app stores can highlight good features and alert you to flaws.
Apps that include ads that periodically appear on your phone often contain privacy and security risks, so choose apps carefully.
Meaney notes that investing a little time to select the best app for your needs can increase the odds of success. "It takes a different level of attention when we seek to make a change in our lives," she says.
Home & Family Finance® Resource Center