Diet & Exercise…There’s an App for That! #REPOST

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Submitted for: Dr. Deborah German, vice president for medical affairs, dean, UCF College of Medicine

Subject: Weekly Health Tip From The UCF College of Medicine

Diet & Exercise…There’s an App for That!

Smartphones have given us the ability to control much of our lives from a single device. So why not manage our health there, too?

According to Google, health and fitness has been the year’s fastest growing app category, with top download categories including “healthy eating,” “fitness/training” and “calorie counters.”

Certainly thousands of health and fitness apps exist, but it raises the big question: Do these apps really benefit the user? Answer: It depends.

A study conducted by the University of Massachusetts found that most apps are useful for planning and calculating nutrition, but they don’t help you change your behavior because they lack strategies for ways to help you “stick with” your healthy habits.

When you’re evaluating potential health apps, consider the following questions:

*       Can I personalize my app? If you cannot input data like height, weight, age, sex and exercise intensity level, then its recommendations will likely be off-target.

*     Does it utilize my phone’s features? The best apps tend to rely heavily on the phone’s built-in functions and features. For example, an exercise app might use your GPS and accelerometer to track your workout.

*       Is it connected to other apps? Since fitness isn’t about a single variable, the app shouldn’t be either. Consider apps that tie into others focused on diet, exercise, sleep, etc.

*       What are users saying? Read online user reviews and look for trends. If you discover that several people are saying the same things-good or bad-the likelihood that your experience will be similar is high.

*       Is it social? Many people find the ability to report progress on social networks like Facebook to be a great source of encouragement. You any even discover new support systems among your online friends.

Ultimately, to change your behavior you need to use apps-and all technology for that matter-in the right way. If you’re spending hours focused on your data, you’re probably not moving. You’re stuck behind a computer. Instead, use technology to help you keep accurate track of what you’re eating or how many miles you walk. Then use that data to set new, healthier goals.

UCF Health Medical Director, Dr. Maria Cannarozzi, often recommends My Fitness Pal to her patients. She likes it because it shows how many calories you’re putting in your mouth every day so you can make better food choices-and it’s free.

Like anything, it’s easy to get addicted to new toys like apps. Mary E. Pritchard, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Psychology at Boise State University, says you are in dangerous mental health waters if you find that not using your app gives you anxiety or withdrawal; you are spending more time using your app than you want to or intended; or you choose working with technology over other social activities.

The bottom line is to know your body and yourself. If a fitness app helps keep your exercise program on track, then go for it. However, remember that an app cannot improve your health and wellness until you make basic behavioral modifications like eating more nutritional foods and getting a recommended amount of exercise. Use technology to help you do what you can’t do on your own, like accurately count carbs or calories, to improve your overall health.

Weekly Health Tips are brought to you by UCF Health (formerly UCF Pegasus Health), the College of Medicine’s physician practice. UCF Health includes primary care doctors and specialists who treat patients age 16 and up from across the community and accept most major insurance plans. If you or someone you know needs medical care, call (407) 266-DOCS or visit UCFHealth.com for more information. Coming in March – UCF Health will open a second location in Lake Nona’s Medical City. Stay tuned for more details.

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