MOBILE APP MOTIVATORS
New Tech Tools May Help Keep Clients Exercising Well Beyond the New Year
Happy New Year! After counting down the seconds to 2014, your clients probably started counting the calories they need to cut and the number of pounds they’d like to lose. As is typical every January, New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, exercise more, and eat healthier are made and then soon broken. Gym owners, fitness instructors, and personal trainers all confirm that at the start of every new year, the gym equipment and classes are mobbed, and training sessions are booked solid. By March, the crowds thin out considerably when busy schedules and lost motivation overshadow resolutions to exercise regularly.
Motivation and exercise adherence involve a complex interaction of an individual’s personality, goals, and behavior choices. Researchers have sought to better define these factors with the hope of improving promotional health messages to increase physical activity.
Understanding exercise motivation is especially important as the prevalence of overweight and obesity continues to rise. One evolving area of study is self-determination theory, which examines intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. As related to exercise, intrinsic motivation is defined as exercising because it’s satisfying and elicits feelings of enjoyment. Extrinsic motivation is defined as exercising for a specific reason or to elicit a particular outcome. It may involve the perception that exercise is a means to an end, results in a reward, or is performed in response to an expectation. For example, a client who plays tennis regularly because she enjoys the sport, mastering playing skills, and/or the competition likely is intrinsically motivated. A client who exercises to lose weight is extrinsically motivated.
In addition to providing an explanation of self-determination theory in relation to exercise, a systematic review published in the June 2012 issue of the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that intrinsic motivation was more likely to result in long-term exercise adherence.
The New Year’s resolution to exercise is categorized as extrinsic motivation. Therefore, clients who use a New Year’s resolution to initiate an exercise routine—no matter the intended goal—will inevitably have problems maintaining motivation over the long term. The principle of intrinsic motivation can be applied to developing strategies to help clients succeed with maintaining an exercise program. As I’ve discussed in a previous column, encouraging clients to find an exercise activity they enjoy is a good first step toward exercise adherence. (See the September 2012 installment of Focus on Fitness, “Dance Fitness.”)
Unfortunately, intrinsic motivation may be difficult to cultivate in some clients, particularly those who have self-esteem issues, negative attitudes about exercise, or physical limitations. For example, even if a client enjoys dancing for exercise, feeling self-conscious in a dance class or lacking space at home may override intrinsic enjoyment. Is it possible then to use extrinsic motivation to improve exercise adherence?
The introduction of high-tech fitness gadgets and smartphone apps for fitness could provide extrinsic motivation for the long-term. Given our obsession with being connected via wireless networking, it’s reasonable to consider that fitness gadgets and apps can be more successful extrinsic motivators than, for example, tracking calories burned and pounds lost in a written food and activity diary.
For technophobic clients, using technology to enhance motivation to exercise can be as simple as exchanging daily text messages with a fitness buddy who has similar exercise goals, signing up for motivational daily e-mails from a fitness website, or using an online personal training service. For clients who always have their smartphone in hand and love technology toys, the following gadgets and mobile apps may be of interest to track their fitness activities, providing motivation for daily workouts and encouraging fitness progress over time.
• FitBit One: This fitness tracking device is the size of a USB flash drive and costs $99.95. It tracks fitness data, such as steps walked or climbed, distance, calories burned, sleep cycle, and sleep quality, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The One also has a silent alarm that gently vibrates to wake you up in the morning. Data can be viewed via a customizable dashboard and mobile app, which are both free. Progress is tracked using charts, graphs, and other user-friendly displays to help clients reach their goals. Moreover, interfacing with apps such as SparkPeople, MyFitnessPal, MapMyFitness, and LoseIt! is free. The FitBit One wirelessly syncs with PCs, Macs, iPhone 4S and 5, third generation iPads, and iPod touch.
• Striiv: A combination fitness tracker and mini gaming device costing approximately $100, the Striiv fits into a pocket and tracks steps walked and climbed each day. Clients can meet a series of challenges and score points during the day based on the number of steps, stairs climbed, miles walked, or time spent being active. A walkathon feature connects with Striiv, which will donate money on behalf of the client.
• MI Coach: This training app is available for free for iPhone, iPod touch, i Pad, Android phones, and BlackBerry devices. Clients get real-time audio coaching throughout a customized workout they can vary each day. The app tracks time, distance, pace, and calories burned.
• Fitness Builder: Available for the iPhone, iPod touch, and Android phones, Fitness Builder is a subscription personalized workout app. Clients can choose from a large library of instructional workout videos, design their own workouts by selecting a range of exercises from the library, connect with a live personal trainer, and use fitness-tracking tools to measure their success weekly.
Tech Tools Galore
These are just a few of the new fitness gadgets and apps available for clients beginning an exercise program or who require additional motivation to continue a regular program. Many more are available for advanced exercisers and athletes for a range of fitness activities, from strength and muscle building to mapping running and cycling routes. Linking a love of technology to exercise goals may provide the tech-savvy client with the right motivation.
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— Jennifer Van Pelt, MA, is a certified group fitness instructor and healthcare research analyst/consultant in the Reading, Pennsylvania, area.