by Shannon Kronstadt
With the New Year upon us, one of my resolutions is to spend less time using my extra limb- also known as my iPhone. You’re probably reading this via your very own extra limb right now- in between snapchats and Facebook memes- and although that limb may be very attractive and entertaining, I guarantee there are better, more meaningful ways to spend your time...but let’s face it, nobody’s trying to seek out a serene nature walk in New York City in December (but you can and should walk down Third Avenue eating froyo in snowpants because? yolo). The good news is, you can continue to admire your screen often, but this New Year, I challenge you to utilize your devices in ways that will actually help you stay productive, creative, and less stressed. There’s nothing wrong with mindlessly scrolling through Instagram at times (is five hours a day bad? Just kidding..kind of), but you can achieve a balanced lifestyle that allows you to stay plugged in without constantly tripping over the cord. You can even start right now.
With that being said, below is a small list of health and fitness apps I personally enjoy and recommend;
they each promote positive activities of self-care that can enrich your day-to-day and make you feel better. This holiday season, give one or two or all six of these apps a try and see if you can incorporate them into your routine- it can be daily, a few times a week, or whatever works best for you. Heck, you can even ignore all of it and go back to editing that pic for the ‘gram. But I do hope you read on. Seriously. I worked hard on this.
All jokes aside - Happy Holidays & happy app-ing!
You’ve probably seen advertisements for this app on the NYC subways, with quotes along the lines of “I meditate in order to tackle that big work presentation,” or “I meditate because I’m raising two teenagers.” After several friends recommended Headspace to me, I finally decided to give it a go- and I’m glad I did. As someone who used to believe meditation wasn’t for me (due to my inability to shut my mind off- until I realized that’s not necessarily what the practice is about), Headspace does a good job reassuring you your experience doesn’t need to fit inside any particular box: it’s yours, and yours alone.
The meditations are guided (which I also like- the guy’s voice is rather relaxing), with the sessions only being ten minutes in length, and after you complete the initial “Take10” series, you can move on to more focused meditations. There are a few paid subscription options, or you can continue using the free trial sessions at your own convenience. The reality is, it isn’t very difficult to learn the basics of meditation on your own, and for free, but Headspace is a great start for those seeking some direction as well as ways to incorporate mindfulness into their lives.
2.) Tabata Timer
Tabata is a form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) that can be used to burn fat much more efficiently than your traditional aerobic workout (i.e. running on a treadmill or spinning). Initial studies on this type of training showed that individuals who implemented Tabata into their routines several times a week developed better aerobic (exercise that can be sustained over longer periods of time and require sufficient oxygen intake) and anaerobic (exercise that is short and intense where oxygen is not sufficient, so the body fuels muscle contractions in other ways) abilities, compared to those who incorporated hour-long, moderate-intensity workouts. In short, Tabata promotes the building of lean muscle mass, and more muscle= more fat burning. Woo!
Typically, I pick four exercises and complete anywhere between four and eight sets in total, with a "work for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, work for 20, rest 10," pattern and so on. What I love about the Tabata timer app (and there are a few to choose from in the App Store) is it does the legwork for you by actually timing the working and resting intervals, so as long as you can hear the “beep,” you just go and rest and go and rest. You can literally work out anywhere with this tool, as you can choose body weight exercises, or if you own light equipment such as a jump rope or resistance band, you're good to go.
If you want to get a taste of Tabata first, come try TRX Bootcamp at The PE Club! We do two different Tabatas in class, and our clients love the beeping timer (some hear the sound in their nightmares...no I’m kidding...or am I…?). Or, jump right in and give one of the apps a try.
3.) Relax Melodies
Do you like listening to the sound of a crackling campfire, the rumbling of a thunderstorm, or waves crashing onto the shore? Do sounds like these lull you to sleep or help you feel more relaxed? Relax Melodies is perfect for that, and you can choose many more options besides the ones I listed above. What I like is you can layer sounds on top of each other, such as the humming of a lullaby over soft winds. You can also set a timer, so after say, twenty minutes, the sounds gradually fade into silence so it's not playing throughout the entire night. My only gripe is that the app tends to close out when you first try to open it, so hopefully the creators will fix this bug soon.
One of the most popular fitness apps out there, MyFitnessPal is a calorie counter and nutrition tracker that allows you to log the foods you consume in any given day. The database contains over five million foods, including popular, everyday brands as well as certain restaurant menus. If you have a specific goal in mind, you can enter this information into the app and determine your calorie and/or macronutrient intake, so you’re always aware of what’s going into your body and whether or not those items are within your specific range. You can adjust these numbers at any time, so if you find you are undereating or overeating, you can make those necessary changes. I love that the app can recognize and suggest frequent foods that you consume (shout-out to the people like me who eat the same thing for breakfast every morning) so you don’t have to constantly search for the same items over and over again.
You also have the option to track your steps as well as cardio and strength workouts, where you can enter the exercise along with the numbers of sets, repetitions, and even the weight used. This way, you also have an idea of how many calories you’re burning and how that works in relation to your nutritional habits. I don’t personally use the exercise trackers, but know that it is there if you need it. My favorite thing about MyFitnessPal is how quick and easy it is to use- logging your meals and snacks takes all of two minutes, sometimes even less. And when it comes to staying on track and progressing towards your goals, who wouldn’t want to try something that fast and painless? On the other hand, tracking your food can sometimes feel restrictive, so make sure you are happy doing it.
5.) Pocket Yoga
I recently discovered this app, so I’m still learning all the ins and outs, but as a “strength girl” who needs more restorative exercise in her life, Pocket Yoga is a true gem. Again, the beauty of apps like this one is you can do everything at home because it offers complete, guided practices, so all you have to do is roll out your mat and follow along. The app requires a one-time $2.99 purchase to download, but once you do this you have access to twenty-seven sessions, all designed by experienced yoga instructors, and you can choose both the duration and intensity. I am a beginner, so I particularly enjoy the library of poses that includes detailed descriptions, the level of difficulty, and the purpose of each one (i.e. improving balance, stability, etc).
Another feature I like is the ability to play your own music during the practice, so if you prefer a top-40 playlist or a nice hip-hop flow, you can use your iTunes music library or another preferred app. You also have the option to purchase additional bundles, but so far I’ve found that the original content is more than enough. Since it can be difficult and not always monetarily practical to go to an actual yoga studio on a weekly basis, Pocket Yoga is an excellent alternative.
I figured I’d save the best for last, because I love food, you love food, we all love food. Yummly is another app that was recommended to me by several people, one of them being PE owner Nedra Lopez! Many of us know that living in NYC means cooking is technically an option (the phrase should really read “six degrees of Seamless,” because let’s face it, almost everyone knows him and he’s one hell of a guy), but that can also leave your bank account in poor shape. This app is the Robin to your Batman when it comes to doing serious damage in the kitchen- but the good kind. Upon downloading, Yummly asks a few basic questions about you and your eating habits, including food preferences and favorite types of cuisines (American, Italian, French, Mediterranean, Japanese, and many more), specific diets (such as vegetarian, vegan, paleo, pescetarian, etc), allergies/restrictions, ingredients that you dislike and would prefer to avoid, and your level of cooking experience. With this information, Yummly recommends tons of recipes that match your needs, and since the app contains over one million of them, you can always try something new. F
eel free to save specific recipes that catch your eye, create your own personal shopping list, and perhaps best of all, spend time creating something that will fuel your body and hopefully leave you feeling happy and satisfied. I believe cooking and eating should be celebrated, perhaps even more so when they become social gatherings, even if it’s just you and your partner or roommate. Whether you choose to stir up healthier alternatives or indulge in your deepest cravings, this app is good for the mind, body, and soul. Bon appétit! And no phones at the holiday dinner table...