APPS

Sunday Mail - Body and Soul - - FRONT PAGE -

With 81 per cent of Aus­tralians us­ing smart­phones and the ma­jor­ity of those no doubt keen to lose weight/ex­er­cise more/run faster/be more mind­ful/quit smok­ing, it’s no won­der the health and fit­ness app in­dus­try is boom­ing.

Smart­phone users have more than 58,000 health apps at their fin­ger­tips and, if Vic­to­ria is any­thing to go by, more than one-quar­ter of us have down­loaded at least one. But are they a waste of time and money?

To an­swer this ques­tion, VicHealth has re­leased a Healthy Liv­ing Apps guide that rates more than 200 apps on func­tion­al­ity and their abil­ity to mo­ti­vate peo­ple to change their be­hav­iour.

“We had a whole range of key terms and popped those into the search panel for app stores across Ap­ple and An­droid plat­forms, and what we got back was over 58,000 apps,” VicHealth re­searcher Dr An­nemarie Wright says. “We had to cull that list. The app had to be in English, had to have a user rat­ing of 2.5 stars or more, suit­able for the Aus­tralian con­text so used im­pe­rial mea­sures, and de­signed to im­prove or main­tain health in a gen­eral sense.”

Not one gets full marks, with the top score of 3/5 awarded to just a hand­ful.

How­ever, be­fore you de­cide to give the glow­ing icons the flick, there’s more to con­sider than a rat­ing out of 5. The big­gest let-down for apps re­viewed for the guide wasn’t their func­tion­al­ity – most scored more than 3/5 in this cat­e­gory – but their po­ten­tial for chang­ing a per­son’s be­hav­iour. In this area, 2.5/5 was the top score and five apps were dealt 0/5.

These re­sults are no shock to ex­er­cise phys­i­ol­o­gist Neil Rus­sell. “I’ve told the most com­mit­ted peo­ple what to do and eat to achieve a health goal and have them still strug­gle to do it – ev­ery trainer has,” Rus­sell says. “So it doesn’t sur­prise me to hear that health and fit­ness apps aren’t par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive at chang­ing be­hav­iour.”

Paul Penna, a sports psy­chol­o­gist and for­mer per­sonal trainer, adds, “Change is dif­fi­cult and if peo­ple aren’t fully in­vested in their goal, it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble.”

How­ever, Wright says health apps shouldn’t be let off the hook just be­cause mak­ing them ef­fec­tive is a chal­lenge.

“I don’t think ex­pect­ing these apps to make goals more at­tain­able is ask­ing too much of them,” she says. “Most of the apps re­viewed showed po­ten­tial for chang­ing a per­son’s be­hav­iour, it’s just that there’s a lot of room for im­prove­ment.” When it comes to the apps cur­rently on of­fer, Rus­sell says that how ben­e­fi­cial they are de­pends on how close a per­son is to their goal. “When look­ing at mo­ti­va­tion to ex­er­cise, for ex­am­ple, most of your mo­ti­va­tion in the early stages will come from ex­ter­nal sources, like peo­ple telling you that you’re do­ing a great job,” he says. “Some apps have in-built en­cour­age­ment but I find it’s most ef­fec­tive com­ing from a per­son.

“It’s also a lot eas­ier to delete an app or turn no­ti­fi­ca­tions off than it is to ig­nore calls

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