App attack: Finding it hard to get fit? It could be just a download away

A new generation of smartphone apps will make the least motivated game for some serious exercise


Sometimes you need a bit more motivation to get fit and healthy. Rather than simply recording your activity or sending you alerts on your smartphone, a new generation of apps is looking at alternative ways to get you off the couch. Here are a few that take a less conventional approach to pushing you towards a healthier life.

Zombies, Run!
If horror films have taught us anything, it’s that the best motivation in the world to pick up the pace is the threat of bodily harm, real or imagined. And when you are doing something you’d rather not, distraction is the best tactic. This is where Zombies, Run! excels. Not only does it take your mind off the fact that you are plodding along for miles, with no end in sight, but every so often it engages your “fight-or-flight” instinct to get you moving.

The app is a story and a game wrapped into one. You take on a mission every time you run and the story is played out in radio transmissions in between your running playlist. It is the typical apocalyptic scenario: a small band of humans surviving in the midst of a zombie outbreak. You are Runner Five, a mysterious figure who is dropped in supposedly to help the survivors. The story unfolds in missions as you pound the pavement, filling in the gaps about Runner Five.

As you run, you pick up supplies automatically along the way, which can be used to fortify and expand your base camp on your app. Occasionally, a zombie pack will chase you, forcing you to pick up the pace to evade them, raising your heart rate in the process.

Teamwork is the name of the game with this app. There are several challenges that you are tasked with completing. The idea is that you work in teams, signing up your friends up to take part with you. Progress made by one member of the team in the challenge will count for everyone and move your team further along.

Climbing Everest, for example, may place a greater emphasis on leg exercises, given that you’ll need that extra leg power to haul yourself up the mountain. None of the challenges – desert dash, gold rush or Eurotrek – is a walk in the park though. You can see how much time you’ve put in compared with your teammates, allowing you to cut the dead weight at any point.

Adding a bit of competition into the mix is always a great motivator. DietBet plays on this, allowing you to set up a weight-loss “competition” among a group of friends. Each of the participants pledge a minimum of $10 (€7.50) to take part, which is put into a pot. Whoever loses at least 4 per cent of their body weight within the allotted time will win the cash.

“Aha!” you think. “I can knock a few pounds off. How would they ever know?” Not so fast. DietBet has algorithms that it can use to sniff out any suspicious patterns of weight-loss and, if needs be, the company will ask you to weigh in at one of its gyms, for those nearby, or over Skype for those who are not. Plus you have to submit photos at the beginning and end of the game. There is no escape. If by any chance you all meet the 4 per cent target, everyone’s stakes are refunded in full and DietBet doesn’t take its usual commission of between 15 and 25 per cent.

I have been a member of a gym several times. That meant mostly I paid about €50 a month, promised myself I’d be there no less than three times a week and went an average of twice a month. Even when the gym was less than 100m from my front door, I still couldn’t motivate myself to go. If GymPact had been around back then, it might have given me the push I needed to drag myself there more regularly.

It works on a very simple premise: people don’t like spending money unnecessarily. When you sign up with GymPact, you make a pact with them: you will attend a gym or get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day on a set number of days. Then you tell them how much you’re willing to stake for each session.

It is a minimum of one session a week, and a minimum stake of $5 (€3.75) a session. If you miss a session, they charge you accordingly, but if you make it, they will pay you a fraction of what you bet. It’s not designed to be a money maker, but rather a financial incentive to get you moving.

Nike+ Fuel Missions
Not an app but an online programme that ties in with the Nike Fuel points system. To take part, you need one of the Nike Fuel products, which will track your movement and convert it into fuel points. This could be anything from the standalone devices such as the Fuelband, to your mobile phone with the Nike+app, which allows you to measure your fuel score earned from walking or running.

You log on to Nike+, take on a mission and then have 30 minutes to rack up a certain amount of fuel points. Fail to reach the target and you fail your mission. You have the option of ramping up the difficulty, which increases the number of fuel points you have to earn in half an hour.

Once you’re done, you sync the fuel device with your Nike + account and you’re one step closer to the end of the challenge. As you complete challenges, you can unlock more levels, giving you more motivation to keep going and hopefully get fitter in the process.

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