How Fitness Apps Measure Up


Recently, I competed in the longest bike race of my life. In total, I spent 12 hours on a bike. I’ve run plenty of races, but biking felt like a whole different animal. I’d been training, but I still got the usual pre-race jitters. Since the race was so long, pacing was important. I needed to make sure that I kept a constant pace. I went to my phone, but had a momentary panic when I realized I didn’t have an app that would work specifically with biking. I went to the App Store, and within a minute I had picked what looked like the best app for this type of race. Even just five minutes before the sirens went off, I had an app downloaded and felt less nervous.

Health technology is one of the hottest trends on mobile devices, with options like the Fitbit and Apple Watch readily available. No matter what your fitness goal, there is an app or “wearable-device” that can help you meet that goal. There are apps for calorie counting, step tracking, run or bike ride logging, weight lifting, and just about anything else. Most phones even come with their own pre-installed health apps.

But how trustworthy are they? In most cases, these apps aren’t being programmed by doctors. And while an app may be able to use your height and weight, it can’t see your family history or medical past. It doesn’t know what is best for you individually. There is no verification system in place to confirm that the numbers it shows you are actually correct. But it is getting better.

As with most products on the internet these days, user ratings are a good way to separate the wheat from the chaff. But, in the case of fitness apps, that might not always be the best way to determine the actual accuracy of the app. A high number of downloads doesn’t mean the number of calories the app says you burn on your run is accurate. It might mean they have a motivating UI or the right kind of messaging for your personality. A great step forward for the industry would be a verification system or even some sort of doctor recommendation system. This is already happening in some cases, but seeing it evolve and grow would be great for the industry.

Even with some accuracy problems, these apps are doing some great things for the health industry.The data stream generated is nearly endless. These apps show how people exercise, when people exercise, and how much people exercise. In some cases, people are more willing to be truthful to their app than they are to their doctor.

Fitness apps can be a great tool, as long as the user recognizes that a simple app on their phone is not the end-all-be-all of their workout regimen. Talking to a medical professional is still the best way to understand what you need to do to achieve your fitness goals. A good balance of both can get you to the place that you want to be.

Fitness apps may also become a tool for health care marketers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see branded variations of apps coming in the near future, as well as social media and search marketing campaigns related to fitness apps.