The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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December 31, 2012

Mobile apps help people achieve fitness, nutrition goals

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Stella Hastings grew up with the world’s fastest metabolism. A voice and dance student in high school and college, she was required to be at a certain weight for performance. It was never a problem.

Much to the chagrin of her friends, the lanky teenager had to work to gain weight, and she did so by eating anything she wanted, including a pizza as an after-school snack.

“Then adulthood hit,” said the 42-year-old mother of two. “My passion for food and flavors never went away, so I have been dealing the last 20 years of my life as a yo-yo. I’ll go up in weight, I’ll go down in weight.”

A recent body composition analysis was a wake-up call, said the Pittsburg, Kan., woman.

“I was at 42 percent body fat, and for someone of my age and height should be at 32 percent,” she said.

But she hates going to the gym.

The answer?

“It was in the palm of my hand,” she said, referring to several iPhone apps that will help her keep track of her fitness, health, weight and nutrition as she strives for her fitness goal this year.

GymPact is at the top of her list.

“I read about GymPact in Real Simple Magazine,” she said. “It incentivizes exercise and holds you accountable. It was just the kind of structure that I needed to get my butt committed to consistent workouts.”

Using GymPact, Hastings created a personal pact in which she determined how many times a week (three) and how many minutes each time (30) she would exercise. The app uses a GPS locater to verify when Hastings is at a gym.

“It checks you in and monitors the amount of time you spend there,” she said.

For outdoor exercise, it syncs with another app called RunKeeper, which uses GPS to verify the distance Hastings has walked, run or biked. RunKeeper submits that data to GymPact to count toward her weekly workout goal.

If Hastings misses a workout, she is charged a fine — each user determines an amount in advance — and the app applies the fine to her debit card. GymPact keeps that money, using it as part of the redistribution program.

“If I miss one, I set it to deduct $5 from my account, although you could put $20, $50, whatever you wanted,” Hastings said.

If Hastings completes all of her scheduled workouts, she is rewarded with money — usually in the range of 50 to 75 cents per workout, according to GymPact.com.

In the first two weeks of using the app, she has completed all of her workouts and has earned $3. Today, she expects to complete her third week and get a notice from the company of additional earnings.

She has used GymPact, RunKeeper and a nutrition counter called CalorieKing for three weeks, and the results have paid off, Hastings said: She’s lost 8 pounds.

“For the first time in my life, I’m keeping really really close track. And I’m doing great,” she said.

Karen Johnson, a registered nurse from Frontenac, Kan., who teaches in the Department of Nursing at Pittsburg State University, said her background in health makes her well aware of how important it is to track her daily calorie intake and her level of physical activity.

“Now that I’m not in a hospital anymore, I don’t walk as much,” she said.

The 39-year-old mother of two said she believes she is at the point where she needs to be more accountable for what she eats — which sometimes consists of “grazing” when she is at home — and how much she exercises.

Johnson has used the free mobile app MyFitnessPal for about six months, and she said it was just what she needed to maintain her weight and level of nutrition.

“I have it on my iPad, and just recently got an iPhone and loaded it on that, too, which is handy when I’m at a restaurant,” she said.

Johnson began by entering her height, weight and age, and choosing a daily calorie goal. Each day, she uses a touch-screen pull-down menu of food items and restaurants to enter what she has eaten and what type of exercise she has done. The app counts down so she knows when she’s reaching her limit for calories.

“It’s very specific; you can choose ‘Biked slowly for 10 miles,’ for example,” she said. A recent lunch at Johnny Carino’s in Joplin tallied up bread (100 calories), minestrone soup (158 calories) and a half-portion of angel hair pasta with artichokes (278 calories).

“It’s an eye-opener, especially when you get into restaurants,” Johnson said. “You can be racking up a lot of calories and not realize it. It’s making me more aware, making me more accountable.”

It also monitors the amount of carbohydrates, proteins and sugars consumed in a day.

“I think it would be excellent for someone who is diabetic or (who) has high blood pressure,” Johnson said.

Hastings and Johnson aren’t alone. According to ABI Research, a market research firm based in New York City, mobile health apps will exceed $400 million in revenue by 2016. More than 13,600 health and fitness apps for the iPhone alone were available to consumers as of April 2012.

The trend is evident in Joplin, according to Luke Snavely, a membership consultant at Powerhouse Gym.

“A lot of people come into our gym and base their workouts on apps,” he said. “I’d say at least 30 to 40 percent, maybe even close to 50 percent use them.”

Snavely, who has a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and teaches “boot camp” classes at the gym, said he has used numerous apps specific to kinesiology.

“There are several that show you exercises for specific muscle groups and different positioning,” he said. “They show what muscles are used and how they are used for various workouts.

“There’s really something for everyone. You just have to see what works best for you.”

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