One of the keys to a good regime to keep fit (or to build fitness back up to something you want) is regularity and measurement. The cliché is that you nip along once a week to a gym, with a big chart on the wall and an Instructor with a Charlie Chaplin moustache and an Addidas tracksuit notes everything down - a touch intimidating, I think you'd agree.
Time to let your smartphone take over. Not only are they really good at recording things, they don't have moustaches either. Over the last six weeks I've been hard at work making small changes to my body, and my Nokia E7 has been helping me out along the way. What have I been using? It's come down to two applications, both of which are wonderfully complimentary. Sports Tracker and Wellness Diary.
Both of these have grown out of the Nokia Beta Labs - Wellness Diary is still there, with a note that it's likely to graduate and become a regular Nokia product, while Sports Tracker famously was spun out of the Labs, became a separate company, and is now cross-platform and gathering critical acclaim from every side.
It helps to think of the bigger picture with these apps. I'm assuming that, long term, you have a goal you want your body to reach (be it weight, fitness, diet or another area) and this is something you need to keep in mind yourself. Wellness Diary does allow you to set goals, but I feel these are more medium term goals which you can inch towards with some daily tracking. Sports Tracker, on the other hand, is all about the here and now of exercise, giving you the short term recording ability, which then feeds into Wellness Diary, which feeds to the medium term goals there and your long term goal in your head.
The only wrinkle in this set up is that there's no data linking between the apps, so any exercise done that's measured by Sports Tracker has to be inputted manually into Wellness Diary.
And while I do worry about the battery consumption with these apps running a lot of external sensors on the phone (you can easily have GPS, Bluetooth, 3G, accelerometers and the camera all running at the same time in a number of scenarios), I'm still getting through a working day with the Nokia E7 with charge left as I go to bed, so something is working well in the code of these apps.
We've covered Sports Tracker many times here on AAS, but it's always worth pointing out again how rounded and functional this application is. You set up your own profile (basic bio details, including weight and height) and whenever you start to do some exercise that involves moving around, be it running, cycling, jogging, canoeing, cross country ski-ing or the like, you start a new session on Sports Tracker.
When you finish, you hit stop, and you can upload the data to your profile on the main Sports Tracker website to analyse the data (although you can see it all on the device as well, there are more numbers, stats and neon-like lines on the main site to make it worthwhile).
I'm a big fan of using cycling to keep fit (the hills in Edinburgh see to that) and it's also a far faster way of getting round the city than trusting buses or cars in the traffic. So, coupled with the Polar WearLink heart monitor, I'm targeting half an hour of cycling a day, at a moderate or high heart rate.
And here's where I start to see little wins. Mentally, the trip from my garden (sea level, or as near as makes no difference) to the Royal Mile is about three miles, with a 500 foot change in altitude - I count it as taking around 25 minutes. But it's dropped from an average of 26 minutes at the end of July to around 21 minutes now at the end of August. Without Sports Tracker, I'd still be exercising on that 25 minutes thought.
So what changed? All I can put it down to is my general health or technique. But an improvement nonetheless, so that's a win.
To keep those improvements needs regularity though, and while Sports Tracker is lacking in that department, Wellness Diary steps up to the plate.
Taking on board the various phone sensor technologies, as well as inputs from the user, Wellness Diary tracks a number of areas in your life. There's a built in step-counter, and trackers for your weight, sleep, exercise, alcohol intake, food groups, smoking and your recovery from stress. Each of these can be switched on or off depending on what you want to monitor.
I'm using the step counter (which works automatically), weight, sleep and exercise monitor. I can set my own target for each of these, and a progress bar displays how close I get. The main indicators (exercise, weight, sleep) are summed or averaged over a rolling seven day period, so not only is there a target to achieve, I can also see that last week's numbers are about to drop off, so if I want to keep the exercise above three hours for the week then I need to get in the saddle!
Wellness also gives you little rewards as it watches your progress (like the Steps Week reward when you hit your target). This is nice and helps you to keep using the application (which makes it more useful, a nice virtuous cycle there). I'm a numbers man and watching the targets get hit, and the averages going in the right direction - these are more tiny rewards, but really this getting fitter lark is about a lot of tiny rewards over a long period of time.
Wellness Diary requires a bit of manual work, you need to remember to put in when you went to sleep and woke up, for example. Having a big "I'm off to bed / I've woken up" toggle button would help this. I like that when I go on a long walk it prompts and asks if this was 'exercise' or not, so there is some automation in there!
Luckily, Wellness Diary is pretty subtle, and doesn't require much work each day, you're dipping into it briefly to add a number or two, and then you shunt it to the background so it can monitor away by itself, ready to report in a few hours time.
Does the combination of Sports Tracker and Wellness Diary work though? While there's no direct effect on my body, the simple virtue of tracking and finding small wins in each area is a great motivational benefit, and one that really helps you keep your spirits up. That's where these two applications really have an impact - keeping your hopes up, seeing very small changes, and that drives you on to more.
It's much like the big support groups you imagine when you think of companies like Weightwatchers (or yes, Marjorie Dawes from Little Britain). Using these apps is far more personal, and means you don't have to admit to anyone else, just yourself. That works well for me, and I think that it would be an almost universal effect.
These apps won't magically improve your life, but they'll keep you on course to fitness and make every step worthwhile. Both of them are free downloads, and are thoroughly recommended.
-- Ewan Spence, August 2011.