After a long winter that kept many of us inside with Netflix, it’s time to get healthy.
Research shows that 40% of a person’s actions during the day are habitual: What if you could make your after-work habit running — instead of drinking a beer on the couch?
An app can’t change your behaviour by itself, but it can make you pay closer attention, helping you develop better habits along the way. Here are the best apps for building healthy habits around fitness, mental wellness, food, and sleep.
Here’s how Zombies, Run! begins.
1. Zombies, Run!
Running doesn’t just burn calories — it can also help keep you happy. But trying to turn yourself into a runner can be a drag.
Zombies, Run! has a unique approach to getting you through the drudgery: It places you in a zombie apocalypse story as a character.
You have to run to “survive,” and you can choose an iTunes playlist to keep you going.
There’s even a “chases” mode, which means that every so often your phone will report that a horde of zombies is rapidly approaching and you need to pick up the pace (look out for moving vehicles, strollers, and other obstacles if you do this). The app also tracks your pace and distance covered.
This popular training program is a great way to run your first 5k.
If you aren’t a fan of zombie stories and want something a little more straightforward, check out Couch-to-5k.
There are a quite a few different apps out there that are meant to guide you through your first 5k, but this one is the official app for coolrunning.com‘s program to gradually build up speed and distance for new runners.
In two months, it will take you from no running at all to regular runs of up to 5k (~3 miles). Following a structured program like this is really valuable, as it’s easy to injure yourself while getting started if you push yourself too hard.
3. The Walk
If walking sounds better than running (some research shows you can get the same benefits), the same developer who created Zombies, Run! recently released a new walking-based story app, called The Walk.
It’s another thriller that involves the need to walk the length of the U.K. in order to deliver a package that could save the world. The story begins with a bomb going off in a train station, and then your character needs to start moving.
The app can run in the background and count all the steps you take throughout the day, using a combination of your phone’s processor and GPS tracking. (This can drain your battery quickly, so make sure you have a way to keep your phone charged.)
RunKeeper comes with built in workouts, or you can create your own.
After you’ve started moving regularly, you need something that tracks your workout data consistently — and perhaps lets you share your results with friends.
The popular and free app RunKeeper lets you choose or create different types of workouts, including intervals, warm up, and cool down sessions. You can also set new routes, track your GPS and run statistics, and hook up the device to a heart rate monitor and other fitness sensors.
You can also set goals for yourself within the app, including finishing a race, running a certain distance, or losing weight. And you can compare your results with friends or choose to put your results on private for the day if you aren’t feeling competitive.
MapMyRide is a good choice for anyone getting into a cycling habit — or trying to keep one going.
It tracks your rides and maps your routes so you can measure speed and distance, and allows you to log data online so you can evaluate how you are doing over time. There are even preset route recommendations.
MapMyRide, like RunKeeper, offers ways to share your stats with friends, so you can track your progress and earn bragging rights.
If you want a more complete experience, you can also log what you eat in the app, and track workouts other than biking, including swimming, running, dog walking, and push ups.
Moves can automatically figure out that you’ve jumped on a bike.
Maybe you want to push yourself to get moving more, but don’t want to begin a specific workout program just yet.
Moves is a perfect solution. It tracks your steps throughout the day, working as a built in pedometer, and also tracks your cycling. That way, you know if you are hitting 10,000 steps or achieving your combined cycling/walking goals.
The best part? You don’t have to tell it to do anything, it does these things automatically on its own.
When I tested it out, I didn’t even open the app until the end of the day, but it had realised I’d gotten on a bike at one point and accurately calculated the distance I’d traveled.
Fitocracy is a social media network and app that helps you design workouts and then gives you virtual points for completing them, combing elements of social encouragement with game-like rewards (level up!).
Fitocracy is perfect for setting up a gym training program, and it comes with a large selection of possible pre-made workouts, as well as the ability to create your own.
There are also video demonstrations of proper form for a long list of exercises, so you can add new elements to your routine, and see how to do them safely.
The basic version is free, though Fitocracy also recently launched a paid training program.
Sworkit is another portable guide to workout routines, but with a great benefit for those without a gym membership: all the exercises and routines in the app can be done at home with no equipment.
One of the most appealing aspects of Sworkit is its simplicity. There’s no registration required, though you can connect to an online fitness tracker called MyFitnessPal if you like.
Each exercise is illustrated with a simple drawing. You can choose workouts with a different focus — upper body, full body, yoga, cardio, custom, and more, and choose a workout duration between 5 and 60 minutes. Cue up your favourite music before you begin, and then just follow the instructions.
Train your mind
9. Stop, Breathe, & Think
Stop, Breathe, & Think, by the nonprofit Tools for Peace, is a great free app if you want to give meditation a try. It’s got a simple interface and a variety of different guided meditations.
You can also use it to learn some of the basics of meditation, or even have the app select a program for you, based on your mood. To do that, just add up to 5 emotions or physical feelings, and then choose one of the suggested meditations.
Stop, Breathe, & Think for iOS: Free at iTunes
Headspace, created by a former Buddhist monk, is based on the idea that meditating for just 10 minutes a day is something that can make a significant difference in everyone’s life. The app’s website cites research showing improved impulse control and focus, and reduced susceptibility to anxiety and depression.
Headspace offers 10 free meditation sessions for you to try it out. You can repeat those sessions as frequently as you like, but you’ll need the paid version to continue on with new guided sessions.
The 10-minutes-a-day goal is meant to be achievable for anyone, and you can set timers and reminders to make sure you don’t miss a session.
If you are actively trying to lose or gain weight, you’ll want to keep track of your caloric intake.
MyFitnessPal is a free app that uses your height and weight to set target goals for your net caloric intake for the day.
You can manually add food and caloric information, scan barcodes for exact calorie counts, or type in a food or beverage to check the database.
It’s also easy to add any kind of physical activity, which is then calculated into your net caloric goals for the day.
For example, if you look for running, you can then select a speed and duration, which can be based on how fast and how long you’d been moving before.
12. Quit It
Quit It is a free app that has smokers fill in the cost of a pack ($14 in New York), how many cigarettes they smoke a day, and the moment they quit.
Based on when your last cigarette was, it tells you how much money you’ve saved, how many cigarettes you’ve skipped, and how much closer you are to health goals like having your lung cancer risk reduced to that of someone who never smoked.
Mashable writer Brian Koerber recently wrote about how this app helped him quit.
Quit It for iOS: Free at iTunes
Rest and recover
We’ve said before that we’re big fans of SleepBot, an app that helps you track how much and how well you are sleeping.
It measures the amount of time slept and uses the accelerometer on your phone to check how much you toss and turn during the night.
It features what’s called a smart alarm, which uses the accelerometer in your phone to gauge what phase of sleep you are in, and then tries to wake you up at the lightest point of your sleep. Waking up when you are lightly sleeping means a less groggy start to the day, avoiding that disturbing feeling of being jolted awake by an alarm when you are fast asleep.
Tracking sleep doesn’t necessarily make you sleep better, but a better understanding of your sleep patterns is a good place to start, and can encourage you to take other steps to sleep better.
Did we leave out your favourite health app? Let us know in the comments.
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