Gamifying Health and Fitness: Five iOS Apps
I am a huge fan of gamification and quantification. What is it? Simply put, gamification leverages game mechanics to make something routine seem more like fun, therefore encouraging you to do it over and over again. And quantification employs tracking your activities, statistics and other data over time to see patterns and trends emerge.
Those of you are (or were, or had) teenagers who could sit for hours in front of their Xbox or Playstation playing the same game over and over. That was game mechanics at work. You do well, you get rewarded. You gain skill. The game gets progressively more difficult, but not at a rate that discourages you enough to give up entirely. And you keep at it until you’ve mastered it.
Games don’t attract all personalities, but for whatever reason, I love’em. And gamifying my personal health and fitness? I’m all in.
Earlier this month, I made a commitment to train for the LA Marathon in March 2013. And as part of my preparation I need to shed some excess pounds. So here are a few of the iPhone apps that I’ve been using.
This is a free app, but only useful if you’ve sprung for one of Nike’s $150 FuelBands. I got mine when they first came out in February, and have been wearing it every day since. I love it, and it really has helped motivate me. What’s so great about the FuelBand? First, it’s dead simple. The inconspicuous wrist bracelet is comfortable and holds a charge for an entire week. It tracks steps, calories, and Nike’s “secret sauce” — Fuel Points. You can upload the data to your personal Nike Fuel website via your computer or iPhone, and it tracks your activity throughout that day, minute-by-minute. Over time, you get a clear picture of how active you really are (or not).
As an added bonus, it can automatically post my activity to another of my favorite apps, Path.
So what is it? Runkeeper is essentially a GPS-powered route-tracker. Most of the time, I simply use the GPS-tracking, select my activity (hiking, running, walking, etc.) and press Start. Runkeeper keeps track of where I go, how far I go, and my pace at every point along the way. If I want, it will even help pace me, telling me to speed up or slow down to stay within my target pace. And when I’m done, I’ve got a complete breakdown of the workout and a map to boot.First, I should note that you can use RunKeeper even if you’re not a runner. I’ve used it for walking, hiking, biking and yes, even running. RunKeeper helped coach me through my training for the La Jolla Half Marathon this spring. And I use it to record my hikes, many of which end up posted on my hiking blog.
Runkeeper has way too many features to cover in a short period of time, but it’s a pleasure to use and my go-to app for tracking runs, walks and hikes.
GymPact is interesting only in how it uses the “carrot and stick” approach to workout motivation. You create a “pact” defining how many times you commit to working out each week, and (here’s the kicker) back that up with cold, hard cash. I’ve committed to working out 4 days a week, and if I miss a workout, I am automatically charged $5 for each missed workout (the minimum stake, and an effective “stick”).
You may be questioning my sanity at this point, but there is a “carrot,” too. If I successfully complete my pact, I actually earn money. No, it’s not as much as I could lose, but it’s better than a poke in the eye with a stick. There are some curious rules to how it works. You have to check-in at a recognized gym (it uses your phone’s GPS) and workout for a minimum of 30 minutes for it to count. And they recently enhanced this to also allow you to use GPS runs tracked via RunKeeper (again, they have to be over 30 minutes long).
The combination of the threat of loss with the promise of gain is actually helping me stick to my goals.
This little app is not just for health and fitness. Lift can be used to track and motivate you to perform any activities that you want to “bake” into your life. Tim Ferriss used Lift to get him to floss more regularly. Plenty of folks use it to get them to read more. I’m using it this month to help me with the 4-Hour Body Challenge. You define the daily habits you want to repeat. For now, I’ve got five that all support 4-Hour Body (FHB) concepts: measure weight and body fat; eat 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking; following a strict, slow-carb diet; exercise; and cold showers (lowers body temperature and increases metabolism).
Lift is simple to use and gives you an easy way to track your progress in the activities you care about. It’s free, and there’s no betting or money to win or lose. Just good ol’ data to use as you see fit. Oh, and the opportunity to give and get props from other Lift users.
Lastly, comes DietBet. This app is specifically for losing weight. Like many other weight-loss challenges, you are pooling your entry fee with other competitors. But with DietBet, the kitty isn’t rewarded to the person with the single greatest loss, but shared among everyone who meets the stated goal of the game. My game is tied into Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Body Challenge, and the goal is to lose 4% of our starting weight over four weeks.
Like GymPact, DietBet uses a similar “carrot-and-stick” approach but with a social competition element (and of course, the focus on diet, not workouts). Since 90% of weight loss is controlled by diet, this has been a huge motivator for me to stick with the slow-carb diet.
I’ve tried dozens of iPhone apps and these are all pretty good. I’d recommend them, but suggest that you think about what makes you tick and whether gamification and quantification is really something that will help you achieve your goals. If so, check these apps out.
Have you got an app that you think kicks the ass of one of these? Leave me a comment and tell me what makes it so great.