Technology is generally thought to be the antithesis of health and longevity — too much “screen-time” is frequently blamed for increasing obesity figures, and experts have taken to calling sitting “the new smoking.” But creative entrepreneurs, armed with science, are flipping the script — and turning those same screens into tools for healthier living. Now practically ubiquitous, calorie counting apps, trackers, and other fitness technology are flooding the market. There are more than 12,000 fitness apps in the iTunes store, according to MobiHealthNews, a number medical industry experts anticipate will grow by 25% every year.
Tara-Nicholle Nelson, VP of Marketing for MyFitnessPal, is a believer in the power of fitness tech. “It transforms a culture, it transforms people’s lives,” she explained to Chase Jarvis during their #UberLIVE conversation during SXSW 2014. “I get emails all the time that are like, ‘I was going to die…And now I’m not.’” While health and fitness coaching programs aren’t exactly new, researchers are just recently compiling data on the impact fitness technology has on our lives.
Looking at Consumer Trends
Marketing research firm AYTM polled mobile consumers to figure out what types of health apps the are the most popular, and whether people feel like these apps have contributed to positive change within their lives. General health and fitness apps were the two most popular categories, with over 50% of respondents affirming that they currently have these apps downloaded on their mobile devices. When asked if they believe these apps have a significant impact on their health, over 66% of participants said yes.
Facebook has also noted the enormous popularity behind fitness apps and activity tracking accessories. In 2012, a developers’ blog post revealed overwhelming health app adoption rates, especially when combined with social sharing on Facebook. RunKeeper, for example, saw their installations triple once they added Facebook Login protocols. By adding social media sharing options, users can publicly track their progress and be held accountable by their circles.
The Motivational Power of Community
How is technology changing fitness? The advent of digital applications has created a new social space for discussion, accolades, and accountability. “We have over 60 million users in 10 countries,” Tara-Nicholle revealed to Chase. “I work out at this studio in Oakland where these NBA players and NFL players work out, and they’re using the app! And my mother, who is a bible study teacher, is using the app! Basically everyone in every area of my life is getting something life-changing out of it.”
There are a number of studies that back up the influential power of a social media support system. Public health researchers at the University of South Carolina put volunteers on a diet, and then gave half of the participants access to a food tracking app and social networking support via Twitter. Their results showed there was actually a measurable correlation between tweets and pounds dropped — 0.5% weight loss for every 10 Twitter posts.
Fitness apps and trackers like MyFitnessPal not only share your activity, many are also a resource for documenting your daily eating habits — a powerful health and weight loss mechanism in itself. According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, participants who recorded their meals in a daily food diary lost 50% more than those who did not.
Screen-time might just save us, after all.