Do fitness apps help you get in shape, or just stress people out

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Fitness apps that track how much you’re exercising and offer social features, or game like achievements, to keep people invested are a common part of exercising these days.

But do these fitness apps actually help people to get in shape, or just contribute to their stress by constantly putting people in virtual competition with each other?

Yes and No, it really depends on your motivation, was the finding of one study from NUIG which looked at the positive and negative

To motivate people to exercise, modern physical fitness apps, such as Strava, Nike+, MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper, and Fitocracy, are gamified to provide a variety of rewards to users.

They do this by constantly tracking your data thus far, steps walked, cycle speed etc, and then either setting new challenges or alerting people when they’ve fallen below past performance.

The market for these has exploded in recent years, with 92 million people in the United States alone using some form of fitness app.

Researchers from the School of Business and Economics at NUIG looked at how the social features of fitness apps predict the type of passion someone has for exercise, are they obsessive or supportive.

They found that, depending on the person’s motivation, these features can have both good and bad implications.

People who use them to show support for others, and get support back in turn, are more likely to have a zen-like attitude towards exercise, with less stress.

But if you’re using them as just another tool in the arsenal to get praise and social recognition, then it’s going to add to your stress as you futilely chase olympic level physical perfection.

Lead author of the study Dr Eoin Whelan cautioned that fitness apps which track your can be a double-edged sword.

While they can certainly help people to establish exercise routines, “there is a danger that some users may develop obsessive tendencies, which need to be avoided”.

“Fitness app social features which promote self-recognition, such as posting only positive workout data or photos, can be linked to maladaptive perceptions of exercise and burnout in the long run.”

“In contrast, fitness app social features which promote reciprocation, such as giving support and commenting on colleagues’ activities, are likely to lead to adaptive outcomes.”

The study also flags to employers the risks and responsibilities of giving employees free fitness apps and incorporating fitness apps as part of employee wellness programmes.

Dr Whelan said that if an organisation is encouraging its employees to use these kinds of tools and services, then they should also have some responsibility for making sure they don’t go overboard.

One possible solution could be for the organisation to monitor the exercise log files of employees and assess these for signals of exercise obsession,” says Dr Whelan.

This study, which published in the journal Information Technology & People was based on 272 people involved in cardio-intense physical activity.