Applying wellness apps to change health behaviors

If you are like me, a member of the Baby Boomer generation and someone who did not grow up with phones in our pockets and e-Readers and tablets by our beds, then you may be wondering what these things called “apps” are and why should you care? Let me start with the basics by defining what an app is.

Definition: “App” is an abbreviation for application. An app is a piece of specialized software that is designed to help the user perform specific tasks. It can run on the Internet through a desktop computer or on a smartphone or other electronic device. Examples: You can download iPhone apps from the Apple App Store and Android apps from the Android Market.

Now that you know what an app is, you may be wondering how you would go about using one.

How to download an app: Whether you have an Android, a Blackberry or an iPhone, the procedure for downloading basically is the same.

1. Go to your app store.

2. Select the app you want.

3. Click download.

4. If asked, enter name and password.

Within the realm of apps, there are thousands of diet, nutrition and fitness options for smartphones and tablets. So many in fact, that there are apps to find apps. Navigating the app world can get a little crazy, so just start out slow. In terms of weight management, keeping a food journal has long been a recommended and proven strategy.

Now, with all the nutrition and fitness apps available, a person can keep up-to-date records with their chosen app and many will provide an analysis of how you’re doing. You can have up-to-the-minute calorie counts of what you are eating, how many calories you are burning through activity and even if you are getting the recommended amount of nutrients in your diet for your age, weight or gender.

In our new world of instant gratification, this can be very motivating. You can even choose to involve a social network to help hold yourself accountable. This method is not for everyone and is a personal choice if they want to share for real-time support. My recommendation is to be selective; not everyone will be a positive support, some may be saboteurs. Remember that peer pressure is a double edged sword.

All of the following apps are free and are good at what they offer the end user. You can try them out and see what works best for you.

App name: Calorie Counter by Fat Secret

Platform: Android, iPhone, Blackberry, iPad

This is one of the most comprehensive programs available offering a food diary to record what you eat, a calorie database of supermarket brands (using the barcode) and an exercise tracker.

App name: My Fitness Pal: Calorie Counter and Diet Tracker

Platform: Android, Blackberry, iPhone and Windows

This app has a great nutrition analysis feature in addition to the fitness features that allow you to set goals and monitor your progress easily. The tutorials are helpful for first-time users.

App name: Arawella: Calorie Counter, Diet and Activities

Platform: Android, Blackberry and iPhone

Arawella offers a classic food diary that tracks calories, water, meal timing, total fat fitness, carbohydrates, protein, cholesterol, saturated fats and fiber. An integrated body tracker helps to monitor progress. This app was named the best in the iPad health and fitness category by App Store in 2011.

App name: SparkPeople Diet & Fitness Tracker

Platform: iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry

This app only includes calories, carbohydrates, fat and protein tracking. Users can customize meal plans. The app also offers a weigh-in page that graphs weight over time.

App name: Juice by Mindbloom

Platform: iPhone, iPad, iPod

Juice is an energy tracker that allows you to log all types of activities like sleep, exercise and foods eaten to help identify behaviors that enhance or deplete our physical energy. It is very simple to use and provides tips and resources from experts like registered dietitians. It even can generate a weekly progress report that set priorities for the upcoming week.

These are just a few that I have personally looked at and encourage people to use these newest tools in creating the healthy, vibrant life you deserve.

From this boomer’s perspective, apps are fun and easy!

Browning is a registered dietitian and coordinator of outreach programs at Susquehanna Health.