March is already here, which means it's a great time to reflect on how those New Year's resolutions are going! One of the most popular resolutions year after year is to get healthier, especially by exercising more. Based on our own forum thread about New Year's resolutions, getting and staying physically active seems like a priority for many of us gamers. But with busy lives and various hobbies vying for our attention, staying on the exercise wagon is easier said than done. It takes a great deal of effort, time, and most importantly, dedication before we can reap the rewards of our hard work. If only we could channel some of our devotion for gaming into exercise... Luckily, there’s been a recent proliferation of apps aiming to do precisely that.
For those who haven't heard the term, "gamification" is taking aspects of game design and applying them to other activities - basically finding ways to turn anything into a game, to make it more fun or rewarding, and to give people a sense of accomplishment to keep them coming back for more. So how can exercise be turned into a game?
Well, one common thread among many of these fitness apps is that as you do more workouts, you will literally gain points and level up. For technophiles, some apps are integrated with smartphones or other devices that track your workouts for you via GPS/heart rate/accelerometer data. Many fitness apps have a social aspect where, similar to services like Xbox Live, you’re notified when your friends do activities, level up, or earn achievements (yes, there are often achievements!). Some apps even send you on quests or challenge you to compete against others. And pretty much all these apps encourage you to link to your Facebook and Twitter so you can share your progress with your friends.
So if you feel like you've begun to slack on your 2012 resolutions, or even if you're new to this whole fitness thing and want to give it a try, here's a breakdown of some of the more popular types of apps that can help keep you on track.
Type 1: Social Emphasis, No Devices Required
If you don’t have a smartphone, or don’t want to shell out for special tracking devices, or even if you just don’t like the idea of having to carry something with you while you work out, this type of app is probably for you. These tend to be websites where you manually enter your own workout details to level up and earn Achievements (or Badges, Medals, etc.). They tend to support a broad variety of exercises from outdoor activities to strength training to gym machines to dance classes and more. Many allow you to join Groups based on common interests, fitness-related or not, so you can meet people and challenge each other.
Fitocracy is probably one of the more popular services among the nerd crowd. They emphasize the social aspect of exercise and have a ridiculous range of activities you can track, from Broomball to Roller Derby to Video Game Dancing (that’s right, you can log those hours playing Dance Central!). They also have one of the most comprehensive listings of strength training exercises I’ve seen so far.
An example of what a Fitocracy profile looks like.
Fleetly is another solid option. They’re bigger on competitive Challenges and they actually suggest Workouts to you based on areas you want to work on.
DailyMile is for people who do more of their activities outside. Socializing is huge here - its almost like Facebook for athletic activities, but you also get to map out your workouts and search through other people’s routes to get inspired for where to go on your next ride/run/hike.Type 2: Your Own Personal Coach and Stat Tracker
If you’re a nerd, chances are good that some part of you has an obsession with numbers, spreadsheets, graphs, and other statistics. In which case, something from this category may be good for you. These apps require you to have some device on you while you do your workout, such as a smartphone with built-in GPS or other computerized accessory. The device tracks your data, can give you real-time feedback during your workout, and updates your profile for you when you’re done. Afterwards, you can dig through your data, mile by obsessive mile.
RunKeeper is a gold mine for the stats-obsessed and it’s great for coaching you in real-time during your workout. You can purchase fitness classes recorded by experts, and Elite members ($20/year) have the ability to track more stats and livestream their runs. It should be noted that the whole community is very running-focused, so if you’re not a runner, it may not be ideal for you. You can track other activities and import from many other apps as well, but it’s called RunKeeper for a reason (Requires iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7, Nokia Phone, or Garmin GPS device).
Nike Plus is another running (mostly) app, a bit less stat-intensive and customizable than RunKeeper but more social and music focused. Your friends can send you cheers of support by commenting in Facebook while you run, or on the competitive side, you can challenge and virtually race against your friends. It also has a feature where you can tell it your favorite “power songs” to work out to, so it can play them for you when it senses that your pace is slowing (Requires iPhone, 6th-generation iPod nano, iPod touch with Nike+ Sensor, Nike+ SportWatch GPS, or Nike+ Sportband).
Strava is a more cycling-focused version of this kind of app, great for analyzing your performances and competing against everyone else who’s covered the same routes as you. (Requires iPhone, Android, or Garmin GPS device)
Endomondo is a more general version of this kind of app. Since it’s GPS-based like the others, the emphasis is on outdoor distance activities, but it’s not as focused on any particular activity type. It’s also one of the more compatible apps in terms of how many devices it supports. (Requires iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7, Nokia, Blackberry, HTC, LG, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Motorola, Garmin GPS device, or Polar GPS device)Type 3: Interactive Tracking for the Less Data-Obsessed
These are apps that require a device and can track your workouts for you, but in a much more casual way. If you’re not hung up on the details of your workouts, but still want a way to reward and challenge yourself, one of these might be for you.
Arookoo is an app that turns walking into a game. It levels you up via a combination of how many steps you take and whether you fulfill their exploration missions (for example, collecting stars on your Google map by walking within a certain distance of them). There are team challenges, scavenger hunts, and also a Facebook game app that turns you into a world explorer (Requires iPhone).
In Arookoo, you can level up faster by collecting stars and completing challenges.
Nexercise is unique in that you just turn on the app, do your activity, and it gives you points based on the type of exercise you specify and the app’s perceived intensity of your workout via accelerometer and GPS data. You get virtual medals and even have the chance to win discounts or prizes, with more activity points giving you better odds of winning (Requires iPhone - plans to support Android in the future).Type 4: For More Than Just Exercise
Of course, exercise is only one component of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Other factors such as diet and sleep are also important, and some apps out there give you the ability to track more of your fitness-related goals at once. If you like the idea of an all-inclusive fitness tracker, one of these might be up your alley.
MapMyFitness is like a well-balanced meal of all the fitness apps. On the exercise front, you have the option to enter your workouts, track workouts through mobile devices, or import workouts from other apps. On the nutrition front, you can keep a food log and get recommendations on how to plan healthier meals as well as better workouts. On the social front there are Groups to join and Challenges to take.
DailyBurn is more like a personal trainer app, with an emphasis on burning fat and losing weight in addition to working out. They give you custom workouts, encourage competition with your friends, let you track your food intake, and even have a nifty app called Meal Snap that estimates how many calories are in a meal based on a snapshot from your phone.
Fitbit is like the Santa Claus of devices. It sees when you’re sleeping, it knows when you’re awake, and it knows if you’ve been exercising! You can wear their activity tracker ($99.95) all day and it will count your steps, estimate the distance you go and calories you burn, and even measure how well you sleep. You can log your food intake, enter workouts, and import activities from a number of other fitness apps. You can even get their special scale ($129.95) that integrates your weight, body fat percentage, and BMI data with all the other info that gets tracked about you.So What’s the Best for Me?
The best app for you is the one that will most effectively get you to keep exercising. This list is by no means extensive, but it’s a pretty comprehensive cross-section of what’s out there. So think about what activities you most enjoy doing and what reward system you find most appealing. Do you like analyzing your stats and progress over time? Do you like competing against your friends or others? Do shiny medals motivate you, or the chance of winning real prizes? Most likely you’ll be able to narrow down the field quite a bit once you answer these questions and eliminate the apps that don’t meet your criteria.
If you still can’t settle on just one app after those considerations, the good news is that these apps tend to offer their basic level of services for free. You only need to pay a subscription fee if you want premium features, so it doesn’t hurt to try several until you settle on the one you like best. Additionally, many apps are cross-compatible and allow you to import activities from at least a few other apps. It may turn out that a combination of 2 or 3 works best for you. For example, I’m primarily a runner so RunKeeper is my go-to, but I also use Fitocracy from time to time when I do strength-training.
Regardless of what you end up choosing, good luck with your fitness goals! And if you end up on RunKeeper or Fitocracy, feel free to add pmslammy to your friends list. I’m looking forward to seeing more of my clanmates out there!
 image credit: http://www.kotaku.com.au/2010/04/is-new-york-overplayed/
 image credit: http://xkcd.com/189/
 all app images taken from app’s official website, official Twitter, iTunes/Android store, or screenshots from the author’s iPhone
Written by PMS Lammy, member of the PMS|H2O Editorial Team. You can follow her on Twitter!