Tuesday, March 25, 2014

GUEST POST: Jarred Harris-- a layman's take on fitness apps!

This is a guest post by Jared Harris, an upstart in the online writing world looking to share his knowledge about fitness, tech, and how the two cultures intertwine.


Let’s be honest: some of us are walking around with humongous smartphones in our pockets, purses, and attached to our hips. Our devices are already large enough, but then, some of us add even more weight to them when we buy those shock-resistant OtterBox cases. Sometimes, I feel like carrying my phone is a workout in itself—the mental anguish of keeping up with it and the physical exertion of having to carry it. If I’m at the gym, I often leave my phone in the locker room, or if I’m going
on a run, I leave my phone at the house on the kitchen table (everyone, for safety reasons, I do not recommend leaving your phone at home, especially if you’re going on a late evening jog).
However, there are plenty of occasions when having your phone on you can elevate your workouts and push you harder. There’s no denying that when it comes to working out in this digital age, smartphone apps have revolutionized and encouraged health and fitness. So, I want to share some of my favorite apps—the ones that I lean on when I don’t have a workout partner or a personal trainer, and I need to set some clear goals and boundaries for myself. 

Oreo likes the "Swatting Skills" app to improve his ability to beat up on the dogs.

Noom - This was the app that help me put my entire workout agenda into perspective. It’s not totally dedicated to the workout part, as it gives a significant amount of attention to food intake and meal planning. It’s important that you understand how the foods you’re eating are either working with or against your workout plans. Also, Noom has a “coach” feature. I don’t know about you all, but when I see or hear the word coach, it puts my butt in gear. Sorry, I had some pretty no-nonsense sports coaches in high school. Anyhow, this is a more casual app that helps you just as much as it makes you hustle.
I don’t use it as much anymore, but as you can tell from this article on Re/code, the app is gaining popularity and even more investors. 

Couch-to-5K - This one also has a coach, and will measure your pace as you’re training for your first or next 5K. I like this one because as you’re jogging, the coach is constantly chiming in with tips and encouragement. The only drawback is that you have to keep your phone from locking if you want to hear the coach at each interval, but I’ve found that its built-in GPS is a good enough feature to forgive the silent coach. 

RunKeeper - I’ve conquered the 5K and the half-marathon. Now, I’m training for the big kahuna: 26.2 miles. So far, my reliable companion has been RunKeeper, and with its built-in sharing feature, I have been able to post my progress on all of my social media accounts. Yes, in a way, I’m bragging to my friends, but it has also helped me build a support system for the coveted goal of completing a marathon. This app will work on any platform, but what excites me most is that Verizon Wireless announced that the Samsung Galaxy S5 will come with a built-in heart monitor, which I can’t wait to put to use in tandem with RunKeeper. 

Zeel - You would have figured that I would have listed this one first, right? What’s more awesome than a massage app? In case you’re unfamiliar with the app, I should warn you that it will NOT turn your smartphone into your personal masseuse. It will, however, link you to experts and practitioners that will help you with your massage techniques and let you book appointments with alternative healthcare providers. 

Zombies, Run 2! - Hey, if you’re not jamming to your workout playlist, there’s another way to enjoy yourself while you run—escaping zombies! What else will make you high-tail it? This is an app I usually load up during the last leg of one of my three-mile jogs. I prefer a light sprint during the last 400-800 meters of my runs, and this is perfect for the upshift. So far, I’ve only used the updated version of this app a handful of times. It’s not the most sophisticated app in the world, but I do agree with Lifehacker when they say that the new interface is a lot more attractive than the first Zombies, Run. 

Thanks for the article, Jared!  

Do you have a fitness app you love?  Questions?  Comments?  Post 'em here! 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Misery Loves Company

"I've been trying to eat healthy, but my co-workers keep bringing in sweets..."
"I want to cook better foods, but my spouse wants pizza..."
"I keep trying to go on hikes but my friends just want to go out to eat..."
"I buy healthy stuff for me and cookies for my kids, and then end up eating my kids' cookies..."

Sound familiar?

"No, I do NOT want more chips!!"

It is an unfortunate fact that the people most likely to derail you from your health and fitness goals are those closest to you.  And although I have written about this in the past, I think it's important to mention it again, because out of all of the reasons people give me for not sticking to their plans, these are, by far, the most common.

When it comes down to it, there's only one person in control of your body-- what you do with it and what you put into it-- and that's you.  And although some obstacles may be more difficult to overcome than others, if you really want to make a change, you'll succeed.  So let's start there.  How badly do you want this?  How badly do you want to change your body, improve your health, or reach whatever goal it is you've set for yourself?  You have to really be ready to change in order to make real progress.  It's quite possible you're not there yet.  And that's OK.  Just understand the consequences of your actions, whatever road you choose, and decide if they're worth it.

For instance:  I know a lot of smokers.  Every last one of them says, "I really should stop."  "I want to stop."  "I know it's bad for me."  They usually say this while lighting another one.  The only ones who succeed in quitting are the ones who have officially decided that they no longer want to be a smoker, period, and no matter how difficult it is to quit, they're going to do it.  Changing your lifestyle is not an easy task.  It requires resolve and determination.  So your very first step needs to be to decide, once and for all, that this is what you want to do. 

If your mind is made up and you're ready to change, finding supportive people can be really hard.  People love to make excuses for their own bad habits ("Just wait till you're my age!" is my favorite-- especially when it comes from people younger than me), and misery loves company.  No one wants to eat that plate of fries alone.  They want you to share it with them so they don't feel too bad about it.  (Hey-- maybe you've been that person!)  So when you're drinking water while they're chugging beers, their instinct is to get you to join in. 

I think the most important thing you can do is to let your saboteurs know that you are trying to get healthy, and to please not bring you food and drink that goes against your goals.  They might be supportive of that and listen, or they might either distance themselves from you or try to derail you even more ("Oh, come on, one cookie won't kill you!").  You have to be prepared for this and take it in stride.  I know this can be really difficult, especially when your arch nemesis is your spouse, your sibling, or your best friend.  But in order to succeed, you have to just carry on, even when it's difficult.

When I decided to go vegan, a lot of people made things difficult for me.  When I went back East for Thanksgiving many years ago, a lot of people made fun of the food I'd made for myself, and my father actually dripped turkey juice on it (whether or not this was an accident is up for debate) and then was angry at me for not eating it anyway.  That was the last Thanksgiving I went back East.  Ever since, I've held my own vegan Thanksgivings at my house with people who love the food I cook, and it's been wonderful.  My parents weren't thrilled that I didn't come back for the holiday any more, but I knew this was the right decision for my own well-being, and I have never regretted it once.

I've been dumped, passed over, and made fun of many times by friends, family members, and boyfriends for being strong, for being a business owner, for my eating habits, for my ambition.  Not gonna lie-- it hurt.  A lot.  But because these were all things that were extremely important to me, I kept at it.  Not doing/being any of these things simply was not an option.  In the end, I realized who my true friends were, and I was better off.

My point is this: although people will challenge you, you have the final say in your choices.  So do what's right for you.  That may mean finding a new group of friends, cooking special meals for yourself while ordering pizza for everyone else, or sitting on your hands instead of raiding the donut box at work.  The results you get from succeeding in your goals will last longer and make you stronger than a pepperoni slice ever will. 

So be strong, stick to your guns, and a whole bunch of other motivational clich├ęs.  Remember that you are in control of what you do, and that every action you take has a consequence, good or bad.  Decide which consequences you want (hopefully they're the good ones!), and make them happen.  You will be happier as a result, even if it's hard to see when things get rough.

How have you overcome your health and fitness obstacles?  Questions?  Comments? Post it all here!