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On the first day of your New Year's resolutions, whether you want to break a harmful habit or jump-start a better one, downloading a smartphone or tablet app can help.
Many apps — available for free or a small price — can help with goal setting, experts say — so long as the people setting the goals have made realistic choices.
The best resolutions are specific, measurable, achievable, rewardable and timely. And, because tech never sleeps, apps can help people remember what they need to do to achieve their new goals, says Douglas Saunders, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto.
"It's not like people who forget," Saunders quips. "Technology never forgets."
The best apps allow users to program reminders for activities such as workout sessions. Ideally, Saunders says, an app would also provide a custom congratulatory message when small milestones are achieved.
"That has to be personal. There's no standard affirmation," he says, explaining people should be able to pre-set in their apps whatever message will motivate them the most.
Social network key to success
Many apps help individuals track their progress by employing charts, graphs and other infographics.
But those techniques really only work when someone is succeeding at his or her goal, says Steve Joordens, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto.
These progress visualizations can backfire if the person either stops progressing or starts regressing, he explains, comparing it to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's lacklustre attempts to lose weight. The negative feedback can derail the best of efforts.
To prevent this, the best apps integrate a social experience, he says. This not only motivates users to impress others, but also provides a community to support someone who is slipping up — similar to Weight Watchers or the Alcoholics Anonymous buddy system.
Below are some of the best apps available for some of the most commonly made New Year's resolutions:
1. Be more active
Map My Fitness (Free, with in-app purchases available)
This app allows athletes to log their workouts and provides pacing, distance and calorie information — some in real-time during workouts. A pre-programmed voice provides updates during activities. For a monthly fee, users can subscribe to a service that connects them with their friends.
Nike Training Club (Free)
This app touts itself as an on-demand personal trainer in your device. Offering up to 45-minute full-body workouts and shorter targeted exercises, Nike Training Club provides rewards when users accomplish their goals. While it does not have a built-in social network, exercise junkies can share their workouts on Facebook and Twitter.
Full Fitness (99 cents, for a limited time)
Full Fitness uses pictures, videos and text to explain more than 300 exercise — some requiring no equipment. The app sorts exercises by equipment, body area and target muscle. Users can build their own routines or select a pre-existing one. In-app profiles allow people to track the progress of others using Full Fitness.
2. Save money
This free app allows users to follow all their bank accounts in one place to track their spending and saving. Users can add any major Canadian bank account to their Mint application and view their checking, savings, credit or investment accounts. The app is low maintenance, as it automatically adds transactions rather than requiring users to manually input spending.
Budget (99 cents)
For a small fee, Budget boasts an easy to navigate system for daily transactions and budgeting for multiple projects. The app helpfully reminds users about overdue bills and has a share feature between iPhones.
3. Stop smoking
Quit Pro (Free)
Quit Pro wants smokers to understand when and why they light up by letting people track every smoked or craved cigarette, helping users identify when they experience maximum temptation during the day or week.
For Joordens, that is one of the most beneficial things a smoking cessation app can do because it can help break a smoker's response to environmental cues.
There are also 170 motivational quotes from numerous health organizations on Quit Pro to help keep smokers on track.
My Quit Coach (Free, with an in-app purchase available)
Livestrong's smoking cessation app includes many of the features experts find most helpful. It allows users to upload personal motivational quotes, to gradually stop smoking rather than quitting cold turkey, and to find support on social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and the Livestrong website.
4. Lose weight
My Fitness Pal (Free)
My Fitness Pal helps users count calories with a food database spanning more than three million foods. The app suggests a daily caloric intake based on a user's weight, height and weight-loss goal. My Fitness Pal lets users connect with friends and claims members who diet with others lose, on average, three times more weight than app users who attempt it alone.
Lose It! (Free, but premium upgrade available for $39.99 annually)
Lose It! is very similar to My Fitness Pal. However, it offers a wider range of goal options than just weight and body measurements. Lose It! users can track their progress based on:
- body fat
- nutrients consumed
- body measurements.
However, only weight progress is available free of charge. All other options require users to pay the annual fee.