Apps that track data based on your fitness, your nutrition, and even your sleep have been a popular trend over the last decade. First, there was the Nike Plus iPod, which launched in 2006, followed closely by the Fitbit in 2007. Now, there are more than 165,000 mobile health tracking apps on the market! Despite the rapid surge of various health tracking apps and devices, many people still struggle to maintain optimal health. This leads to the question: are health tracking apps helpful or harmful?
The benefits of tracking
Advances in technology have made it possible to track multiple aspects of our health anytime, anywhere. There are numerous smartphone apps and fitness devices that give us the ability to manage our fitness routines, our caloric intake, the number of steps we take each day, and how much sleep we get each night. Then, this data is extrapolated and presented to us in such a way that we can track our progress over time. Tracking progress is particularly helpful for those trying to lose weight since weight loss is often very slow and incremental, and many become frustrated and give up due to a perceived lack of results. Seeing progress and improvement over time can be exactly the motivation needed to keep going!
One app that has taken a holistic approach to health and fitness is Adidas with their new app platform designed for women, the “All Day” app. According to an article by Fast Company, this app “serves up daily ideas, techniques, and inspiration from leading experts across four areas of athletic performance: movement, nutrition, mindset, and rest.” Adidas’ All Day lead marketing strategist Meg Burich says that the key to this app is to “create an experience that would stay with you and add value over time, and could marry all these four pillars of performance in one place.”
It seems that Adidas is onto something by creating an experience that will make consumers want to stay committed to their goals for the long term, since research has found that one-third of U.S. consumers who have owned a health tracking app have stopped using the device within six months of receiving it! This is just one of the drawbacks of most health tracking apps, which we will discuss more in the section below.
The drawbacks of tracking
Besides failing to cultivate long-term engagement with consumers, there are multiple drawbacks of health tracking apps that we must be aware of.
One of the biggest drawbacks of health tracking apps is that too much emphasis is put on sweating off weight through hours of exercise without establishing a base of proper nutrition. In fact, exercise can often cause many people to overeat because they give themselves permission to indulge. This phenomenon is called moral licensing, which by definition is the psychological tendency to splurge in one area of our life when we’re being good in another. Luckily, developers of health tracking apps are realizing that health is more than just exercise, which is why apps that incorporate all of the different pillars of health, like the Adidas All Day, are now hitting the market.
Another drawback of health tracking apps is that many of the nutrition apps focus solely on the concept of “calories in, calories out” as a way to lose and maintain weight. However, evidence that the calories in, calories out theory is too simplistic is plentiful. Dr. Peter Attia, co-founder of the Nutrition Science Initiative, explains that “All calories are not created equally. The energy content of food (calories) matters, but it is less important than the metabolic effect of food on our body.” Essentially, this means that if you’re using an app that counts 100 calories from a bag of potato chips and 100 calories from a bowl of fruit as equal, you’re actually doing more harm than good.
Overall, the benefits of health tracking apps include being able to track almost every aspect of our health through smartphones and devices, as well as track our progress over time. Seeing our progress can be inspiring and motivate us to keep going. However, we must keep in mind that improving our health requires a balance between multiple factors, most importantly eating right, exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep, and being mindful. While most health tracking apps only focus on one or two of these pillars of health, we were happy to learn about the new Adidas All Day app and hope to see more apps like this in the future.