Using technology to improve fitness

I’ve been overweight since I was at high school. Over the years I’ve made various efforts to shift the kilos and improve my fitness with mixed results.

My wife and I follow the Slimming World plan and are seeing positive results. We’ve also both been training for races in a bid to improve our overall fitness.

Losing weight or sticking to an exercise programme can be hard so I thought I’d share some of my experience in case it might help others trying to do the same.

Motivators

Before somebody can start to make a change, they must, of course, want to make the change. The more committed someone is to it, the greater their chance of success.

It’s important to recognise key motivators in any fitness / weight loss journey. These will vary from person to person, but for me they are:

  • Goals: setting a specific objective, be it a target weight, a specific challenge (e.g. a race), or planning for an event (e.g. getting into an outfit for a wedding).
  • Support: it is hard to go it alone and much easier when you’re joined on your journey by someone else, be it a partner, gym buddy or running club.
  • Accountability: perhaps through a group, another person or tracking of activity / food intake using apps.
  • Convenience: having a gym at my work certainly gives me less opportunity to talk myself out of exercise after a long day in the office.

Working a compressed week means I don’t have time to attend fitness classes during the day.  Instead I have a gym-only membership and go a couple of nights each week. As most of my activities are done alone, I find technology helpful in terms of tracking what I’ve done and its effects on me physically.

Diet or exercise?

The answer to this question largely depends on what your ultimate goal is. If you’re looking to lose weight, diet; if fitness is the goal, exercise.

Food

I went to the gym for about a year but lost very little weight due to not really changing my diet. It wasn’t until my wife joined Weight Watchers in 2011 that I started seeing significant changes, simply by eating the same things she was. Over a period of 18 months, and two stints on the programme, I managed to drop 23kg.

Me in 2007 and 2012
Me in 2007 and 2012

My weight has steadily crept back up since finishing Weight Watchers so we decided to join Slimming World in January.  So far I’ve lost about 10kg and my wife has notched up a 2st loss.

Each programme is designed to make good nutrition more understandable and accessible to the average person. They assign a specific number of points (WW) or syns (SW) to different foods and users try to stick to a certain amount of these each day / week.

I find Slimming World easier and less restrictive than Weight Watchers. Food like meat, rice, pasta and most vegetables is free meaning you can eat as much as you like. In contrast, Weight Watchers assigns points to most things and the totals quickly add up.  I don’t find myself hungry on Slimming World.

Both plans have mobile apps, providing users with the tools to track food intake and access to recipes, tips and success stories to keep them motivated.

Slimming World food search
Slimming World food search

Personally, I find the process of working out the point / syn values helpful as, if nothing else, it gives you the time to resist an impulsive trip to the fridge and to think of more healthy alternatives.

Activity

Having been inactive for much of my teens and 20s, I now go to the gym a couple of times a week and try to run at weekends. My return to exercise started in 2011 when I took up cycling and swimming.

Recognising my need to have something to work towards as a motivator, I’ve entered a number of events over the years, including:

Me after the Edinburgh 10K 2018
Me after the Edinburgh 10K 2018

Useful apps for tracking exercise

Being a technophile, I like identifying apps that will support me in tracking and completing tasks, whether it’s work related or, in this case, exercise.

Runkeeper

I’ve used Runkeeper since 2010 to track all outdoor activities like cycling, running and walking. It uses my iPhone’s GPS data to log distance, time, pace, elevation and calories burned. This information is then presented in maps, charts and tables, both in the app itself and online.

Summary of Edinburgh 10K 2018
Summary of Edinburgh 10K 2018

To date I have tracked 533 activities, with a total of 2,001km travelled and 141,650 calories burned. I can also track body weight, with a graph of progress being available over time.

Elevation and pace charts
Elevation and pace charts

Runkeeper allows you to connect with other users of the app as well as friends on Facebook. This provides a feed of their activities and a leaderboard where you can compare performance with others.

The app is useful for monitoring progress, comparing past activities with new ones and seeing speed and fitness levels improving.

Fitness Buddy

I use Fitness Buddy to track gym-based activity. Users are able to access pre-built workouts for the gym or at home, and can also create custom ones. My Edinburgh Napier University-based gym – [EN]GAGE – offers free, bespoke fitness programmes to its members and I load this information into the app.

Fitness Buddy workout
Fitness Buddy workout

The app presents workouts as a checklist. Users mark each exercise as complete, adding details of weights lifted or time spent during an activity. You can also log a pulse by placing an index finger on the phone’s camera.

Again, body weight can be tracked using this app. It can also track activities like Runkeeper, although I tend to enter this information manually having logged it on Runkeeper first.

C25K/10K

Couch to 5K has been a popular entry point for new runners over the past few years. It is designed to turn couch potatoes into middle distance runners over a short period of time. Take it from me… it works!

I use Zen Labs’ C25K and C210K apps to guide my training for running races. I have completed the programmes a few times and have found them achievable and effective in terms of developing performance and fitness.

C210K interface
C210K interface

The 5K programme takes about eight weeks to complete (sometimes less) and the 10K one takes about 14. If you’re not starting from scratch its possible to jump to about week three of the programme and take it from there.

Summary

There are a wide range of plans and tools available for those wishing to lose weight or improve their fitness. The first step in all journeys however is to set a goal or find a motivator that will keep you on track for the duration.

The tools that work best for me are the ones that set out a specific plan or allow me to monitor progress. My interest in data analysis as part of my day job is no small motivator here, given the wealth of information available in apps like Runkeeper.

I’ve covered the apps that I use but there are plenty more to choose from. Have a look and see what works best for you.

If you’d like to know more or have any questions, do get in touch.

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