Picking an Exercise Program...

Lately, I’ve been trying to figure out what sort of exercise routine best works for me. These days, options are so varied and abundant that picking one or two routines to stick with can be overwhelming. 

I took some time to think about the most important questions to ask yourself when starting an exercise routine and have listed them here.

What fitness activities do I love?

I love to swim. Living in Chicago means finding a gym or park district with a swimming pool which at times does not satisfy some of my other needs such as schedule and convenience, however, because I love it, I am that much more motivated to work around these other issues. Ideally, though, you’ll want to find an activity that you both love and that works for your schedule and budget you will be much more successful in your endeavor.

What is my starting point?

It’s great if you are gung-ho about beginning a new exercise program, but it’s important to know where you are starting from and what your capabilities are. If you are not a natural athlete or haven’t done more than walk to your car in years, consider an exercise plan that is: a. approved by your doctor and b. one that gradually builds as you gain strength and endurance. There is no shame in starting slow or avoiding certain activities in order to prevent injuries.

Do I prefer solitary or group activities?

For some, solitary exercising if far too boring, isolating and can be far from motivational. For others, working out alone is refreshing and relaxing. Sometimes, a routine that encompasses both is best. If possible, try both and make a promise to stick to whatever motivates you.

Home vs. gym?

I know myself well enough to know that there is no chance in hell that I can ever hope to get much exercising done at home. Although Netflix and Youtube have a ton of exercise programs, for me TV time means hitting the couch and going hard on the snacks. For others, that is simply not the case. Don’t try to be what you’re not. If working out at home is too distracting or provides little motivation, by all means get out of the house, even if that means going for a walk. Which brings me to my next point.

How can I get exercise in the activities that I am already doing?

Living in Chicago without a car often means a decent amount of “hidden” exercise.  Walking everywhere and climbing stairs to the “L”, for example, are both examples of this. You are on your feet and moving without any expectations of exercise, but you’re still moving! Or for example, if you are a nurse, a construction worker or any other profession that is up and on your feet, you’re probably burning calories more than you realize. Even activities like sweeping and mopping burn calories! This is a great first start to finding fitness in your life, but should be augmented with additional sweat producing activities.

What is my budget?

Do I need cheap/free activities or is budget of little concern? Our budgets are as varied as the exercise you can do to match them. Having less money to spend on classes, premium gym membership or a brand new exercise device does not preclude you from exercising. From walking or running with a buddy, doing yoga on YouTube or even getting a cheap gym pass (there are some out there for as low as $10 a month (think 2-3 lattes per month), many cheap or free solutions exist. Find a solution that will match your budget. You’ll be much more likely to stick with it if it isn’t breaking the bank.

Is convenience important to me? Do I need to find a gym or class on my way home from work or school?

I commute long hours to work and back, so for me, convenience is key. For others with similar problems, or children to take care of, or any other millions of reasons, finding an exercise routine that fits into your schedule should be paramount. If you don’t have time for it or if it’s not on your route from work or school to home, guess what? It’s probably not going to happen. Do not buy a membership for that premier gym if it’s 20 miles from your house and you have one hour to commit to a workout.

What time of the day is best for my schedule and lifestyle?

If you are a morning person, perhaps a 6am routine is best for you, but also consider that for you night owls an early routine might give you the wakeup you need to start your day. Or maybe someone who falls asleep on the way home from work, could use that evening pick-me-up before heading home. Either way, choose a time that you can stick to and of course, if it doesn’t work, always feel free to make adjustments to best suit your needs and your body.

If you’re not sure how to answer these questions just yet, all is not hopeless. Try as many options as you can.  Trial and error is inevitable until you find that sweet spot.  Just make sure to not put down a credit card for a year’s membership without first trying something on a temporary basis to see if it’s a good fit!

Good luck!

The Current State of Fitness Apps and Wearable Devices

In 2015 there were more than 100,000 health-related apps. Wearable fitness devices are showing a similar rate of growth. However, the technology isn’t perfect, and a high number of users abandon the devices and apps within a year of purchasing them. If you’re considering jumping on the wearable device and fitness app bandwagon, what follows is an overview of the technology and some of its challenges.

The technology used in wearable devices and mobile apps varies in complexity depending on what the user is trying to accomplish. Examples include simple step tracking for estimating daily physical activity to the intricate detection of disease evidence used for medical diagnosis. The devices come in the form of wristbands, smartphones, smartwatches and clip-on devices. Applications come in the form of digital user/patient logs, nutrition diaries and cardio monitoring devices (for medical purposes).

Most of the devices and applications used today are primarily for the everyday user to track daily activity and vital factors, and some of the more advanced models may even detect periods of stress. In the lesser-used area of medical prevention and diagnosis applications, the devices act as a patient diary, recording vital information that can be used by doctors to initiate treatment plans. Vital parameters can be sent directly to medical personnel, eliminating the number of trips a patient needs to make to their physician. This is a big issue for medical professionals and insurance companies, as patients would make fewer visits to physical offices, reducing their co-pays. It will be important to keep an eye on this specific topic, as it will be interesting to see how the giant insurance firms respond.

In the big scheme of things, the technology is still in its infancy and it’s far from perfect. The biggest challenge the developers of this technology face is user burnout. In the U.S., nearly a third of all users of wearable devices stop using them within six months. It’s estimated that a big cause of this is the lack of visual feedback and behavior change elements. Successful apps actually tend to employ some of the same strategies as successful video games. These features include personalized goal setting, user-specific feedback and leaderboards. What most apps do successfully manage are the social and peer elements. Achievements can be shared and peer “competitions” are easy to launch. But, like any other technology, evolution must be continuous to keep the devices and apps current.

The good news is that this technology doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. The benefits have been established and the increase in major medical applications will certainly keep it around for a while. Furthermore, some pretty big players are looking to get into the healthcare business. Giants like Amazon, Google and Apple have expressed interest in the healthcare field. Given these companies’ positions on the “technology” tree and their subsequent bank accounts, you can bet that we’ll see some pretty remarkable advances in the wearable fitness device and mobile application markets. The challenge for developers will be to keep the casual user engaged, and when it comes to user engagement and brand loyalty, nobody does it better than Amazon, Google and Apple.