The Bull & Bear of Fitness Apps

Written by: Emily Russo, MS, RD, CDN

Fitness apps make exercise more accessible and can engage people in a wide range of new activities.

It started with a simple pedometer, but fitness tracking has become an integrated part of our days – everything from how many steps we take to how fast our heart is beating and how many calories we are burning. Do we need to log in to make an impact?

The global fitness app market is growing and expected to reach a value of $4.8 billion by 2030. This is likely due to a combination of ease and accessibility, an increased interest in activity, and our ongoing dependence on technology. In the first half of 2020, downloads of fitness apps grew by nearly 50% when other group activities weren’t an option.

Many would make the bullish bet that fitness apps are here to stay, and the downsides are negligible. Others are more bearish in thinking fitness apps are just a trend, and that there are flaws that should not be overlooked.

So where do you place your bets — the bull or the bear?

When it comes to our unique needs, there’s never one right answer. And though the analogy may not be financially pertinent, like it is in a Barron’s or Fortune article, it’s a fun way to consider the topic!

The Bull on Fitness Apps
We know that exercise has health benefits such as a decreased risk of heart disease, increased strength, improved mood, decreased blood pressure, blood sugar regulation, improved learning and memory, and improved sleep to name a few.

Fitness apps make exercise more accessible and can engage people in a wide range of new activities. In fact, research studies show that fitness app users walk an average of over a mile more a day than non-users. And the cherry on top is when your Apple watch vibrates to remind you to stand up and take a stretch!

Here are some other reasons why fitness apps are a great bet:

  • Variety – There is a plethora of activities to fit all schedules and energy levels. If you don’t enjoy one particular class or instructor, simply try another.
  • Time Saver – There’s no time lost getting to or from a location, going to a locker room, or even obtaining childcare, and most sessions are less than 30 minutes.
  • Dressing Down – There’s no dress code–especially if no one can see you!
  • Goal Setting – Structure and accountability keep us exercising regularly, and fitness apps help by sending notification reminders to workout.
  • Cost Saving – Some apps are free and most cost less than gym memberships.
  • Isolation – When stuck at home, this can be an engaging way to remain active.
  • Sharing – Users are driven by sharing their success through these fitness apps and their communities.

The Bear on Fitness Apps
We don’t need a device to tell us if we’ve been sitting too long, because we should recognize when we need rest and when it’s time to move. As we rely more and more on external notifications, we lose trust in our own inner body signals. Being mindful and aware of our own needs is also vital for regulating our food intake.

If looking for a general barometer of how to maintain a healthy regimen, “adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and 2 days of muscle strengthening activity” according to the current Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Depending on fitness levels, this can be as simple as 20-30 minutes on most days of gardening, raking, walking, jogging, or even dancing in the kitchen. This can all be accomplished app-free.

Other reasons why fitness apps aren’t a sure bet for everyone:

  • Unsolicited Advice – Fitness apps sometimes cross over into information on weight loss, diets, or supplements. Though it may appear so, the advice is not unique to the user and may not be in their best interest.
  • Excessive Tracking – Whether it’s steps, classes taken, or calories eaten, this process can be cumbersome and is notoriously inaccurate. This can also be triggering for those who have obsessive tendencies. Movement doesn’t have to lead to weight loss or a change in BMI to be health promoting.
  • Limited Feedback – Though it may seem as if your instructor is right there with you, they aren’t. If you are trying a new move it can be tricky to know whether or not you are doing it safely and effectively.
  • Screen Time – Making the time to move is a great opportunity to give our eyes and our brains a break from screens. Exercise is just as beneficial without clocking our progress on a device, and it may feel even more cathartic.

Key Takeaways
Movement is an important part to maintaining mind and body health. Fitness apps can be a handy way to engage in various forms of movement, but they aren’t the only way or the best way.

Be wary of fitness apps that crossover into other disciplines – such as nutrition or supplement use – as the advice is not unique to an individual’s needs.

There are plenty of apps to choose from and most offer free trials to start. Find one that provides the guidance and class offerings you like, but that allows you to honor your own unique needs.

Apps to Try!
There are plenty of other fitness apps (hundreds!) to meet most everyone’s needs, but if you are curious, here are some that I have tried!

For those who seek variety…
Peloton offers a plethora of classes and workouts such as running, cycling, yoga & HIIT, barre, dance, and Pilates to name a few. I appreciate the ease of trying new things, and many of my friends enjoy using this app regularly.

For those who like competition…
Strava uses competition as a motivating tool. It encourages connection with other users on Facebook and offers giveaway challenges. I was intrigued by the running routes other people in my neighborhood shared, in addition to a podcast on the founders who were high level collegiate athletes.

For those who like high intensity…
Freeletics focuses on HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts and individualized at-home training. A coach reviews your goals and sends back a training program. I liked the option to choose ‘train quietly’ to prevent loud jumping for those who live in apartment buildings.

For those who like an app that features one person…
Le Sweat or Melissa Wood Health offer more than just workouts and a bit of a buy-in to the instructor’s way of life. This includes nutrition, meditation, and daily routines to name a few.

Ann uses (and loves!) Kira Stokes who offers a wide range of class types and lengths. In addition to walking with friends or family, she began using the app during quarantine so she could continue the PT program she had been doing at the gym—and never went back. She chooses a variety of short videos aimed at strength training, although there are lots of cardio options as well.

For those who like Yoga…
I tried glo when I had a newborn at home all the time. Depending on how long the baby naps (for example, on good days I could fit in 30 minutes!) there are shorter or longer classes to choose from.

We love to hear from our readers! What’s your favorite fitness app, or which one are you interested in trying? 






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