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Apps & Accountability: The New Frontier In Fitness

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(credit: CBS) Natalie Nyhus
Natalie Nyhus joined the WCCO-TV team in January of 2011. She anchors...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – People have been working out and dieting as long as we can remember. And they’re still looking for ways to do it better. So it’s no wonder that health clubs and app developers keep coming up with new ideas.

And some of them, it seems, actually work. WCCO-TV looked at three creative new ways that people can get healthy and found that some small changes are actually driving surprising results.

The sights and sounds of a fitness class are very familiar, but the one at Steele Fitness in Edina is a little different.

“You’re collaborating with your teammate that’s next to you,” said Steele Smiley, who owns the club. “You might not know them when you come in the first day, but that’s what makes it unique.”

The group is a combination of friends and strangers, brought together to work out as a team.

“Years ago, the women used to call each other in the neighborhood,” said Debbie Fallon of Edina, “and they’d all get together at somebody’s house; and they’d all walk together and chat and get caught up….This is an accelerated version of that.”

Fallon lost 10 pounds in the first six weeks. She signed up with a couple friends, and has become close with the rest of her team. They work out three times a week, for about $25 per session. They get personal training in a group setting, and an extra level of accountability.

“Everybody calls each other in the morning,” Fallon said. “They encourage you.”

Melanie Berg is a fitness veteran. She has lost 50 pounds over the years, but now that she’s in this group, she still sneaks a peek at the leaderboard when it’s emailed to members at the end of each week.

“I was in first place last week,” she said, “and this week I know I’m going to be, because I lost three pounds.”

And that reaction gets to the heart of a healthy competition.

“Yeah, you see the (other) names,” she said. “It’s like The Biggest Loser.”

For other folks, though, motivation is as close as the phone. Apps are the new frontier in fitness, and the GymPact app actually pays you money to work out. And it takes away money when you don’t.

You start by wagering how many times you plan to check in at the gym. Whenever you miss, your credit card gets charged – a minimum of $5. But when you show up, you get paid a little bit – money from the folks who missed.

So far, it’s working: 90 percent of GymPact users have met their goals.

Charlie Markon found his motivation in pair of pictures taken in Florida over the holidays. But he also found an app to do something about it. MyFitnessPal is basically a phone-based version of the food diary he used to fill out at the end of the day, but he enters these numbers (or scans them in from labels) in real time, when he’s still in position to make better eating decisions. And he gets to eat more whenever he punches-in a workout. The simple differences motivated him to lose 45 pounds.

“Everything I ate became more of a decision,” he said. “Do I want to spend this many calories eating this instead of eating and trying to figure it out later, after the fact?”

“Most of it is finding something that works for you,” said registered dietitian Heidi Schmidt of HealthPartners. Whether at the gym, or on the phone, she says the key to all diet tricks and tools is finding something that you’ll use consistently.

“We already have difficult enough lives,” she said. “So you want a tool that’s going to help you and not something that you’re going to have to learn, or at least the learning curve isn’t too great.”

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