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Break a Digital Sweat

Smartphones can do everything—even get you fit

by Erin Pihlaja on January 17, 2013

The sound of helicopter blades thunder in your ears just before the voice of the pilot pipes into your headphones. She tries to get you to talk about your mission, and makes some vague observations about Abel Township, your destination. She notes that the supplies carried by the craft are atypically low, then suddenly—you’re being shot at.

“Who has a rocket launcher in this sector?” she wonders and you both prepare for a crash landing. “Brace, brace, brace!” she yells.

Miraculously, you survive. On the ground, you hear the voice of a male radio operator. He informs you that there is a horde of more than 40 “hostiles” heading your way. “If there is anyone alive in there,” he says, “just run.” The sounds of low groaning get closer and closer. He screams, “Run!”

This isn’t really life or death: It’s Zombies, Run!, a smartphone app. But unlike many of the hundreds of thousands of mobile apps available for iOS and Android, it is also a fitness regimen that incorporates an interactive game with tracking technology to maximize the experience of running and/or jogging.

While there’s nothing wrong with decking yourself out in leg warmers and gold spandex in order to go for the aerobic burn on your living room floor, technology has come a long way since the VHS days of Jane Fonda. Considering that most of us are busy creatures, whose ever-present smartphones might as well be implanted in our bodies, using your mobile device as a workout alternative, even fitness coach, is a no-brainer.

 

Photo by Erin Pihlaja.

If zombies aren’t your thing, no worries. There are many health-related apps to choose from, and while they aren’t meant to take the place of the gym, a physical trainer, or your doctor, they are a great way to reinvigorate or supplement your workout or get you up off that comfy couch. Haven’t broken a sweat since the V-sit reach in your high school gym class? Assuming you’ve been given the proper medical clearance, the Couch to 5K app (C25K) is a great place to start. Designed for beginners and marathon virgins, this program breaks in the running novice slowly over a nine-week period. Not everyone is a born runner, but this app will coach you through each run, even mixing in audio updates over any music that you are listening to. If bragging is your main motivator, you can share your results via social media.

Pocket Yoga aims to help yogis stay in practice to achieve the maximum benefits of the discipline by striking a pose or two anytime and in any yoga-friendly zone. This app lets a user choose between three practices, three difficulty levels, and three durations. It can’t replace the hands-on instruction you get in an actual yoga class, but will certainly help to keep you fluid when you’re not in the studio.

FitID is a lifestyle app that tracks your meals, workouts, and progress in a social-media style template. It’s integrated with Facebook and Twitter, meaning that your friends and followers can comment on the healthy new you. Users share tips, recipes, and regimens with others in the fitID community. If you’re feeling especially daring, share before and after pictures. Just don’t overdo the holding-up-my-old-fat-jeans thing.

Sometimes what we need most is to detach from the stresses of real life. An arguably more healthy option than say, a Real Housewives of Orange County marathon, is the app called Koi Pond. So simple that at first it just seems wrong, the description for this app reads, “Clear your mind. Imagine gazing into a pond of crystal clear water.” No, really. That’s it. If you touch the screen the koi will swim away, and the effects (visual and audio) are water-realistic. You can customize your koi pond to your liking, and presto—an oasis that fits in your palm.

There are plenty of options in the world of fitness apps (some of them are even free), but you don’t need a smartphone to hop on the digital workout bandwagon. Gaming systems like the Wii or Xbox offer some truly advanced exercise programs. And old-schoolers shouldn’t be too disheartened, as there are still plenty of fitness DVDs being produced—plenty of hard bodies have sworn by the bicep-changing powers of the P90X system. So, what if the people in the commercials don’t wear pastel-colored leotards with coordinating sweatbands? Times have changed, even if Sweatin’ to the Oldies fitness personality Richard Simmons hasn’t.