These 8 smartphone apps will help you work smarter, exercise better and more
Download: Google Fit (free, from Google Play)
No fancy fitness-tracking band? No problem. Your smartphone is good enough for measuring basic activities like walking, running and cycling. Once you’ve installed Google Fit and keyed in your gender, height and weight, the app will start counting steps and distance covered to estimate calories burnt, as long as you have your phone with you.
The brilliant part is that it’ll automatically detect walking, running and cycling, so you don’t need to prompt the app before these activities. Otherwise, you can manually add other workouts, from zumba and kick-boxing to yoga, and Google Fit will approximate the calorie count based on the duration you input.
You can also connect Google Fit to other apps to cross-share fitness data. This means your runs can be synced across Google Fit as well as on apps like Runkeeper, or if you’re on the popular weight-loss app, Noom Coach, you’ll be pleased to tell at a glance that your fitness activities are countering the calories consumed.
Alternatively, consider Apple Health, built into iOS 8 and iOS 9. On its own, it can be used to track the number of steps, distance walked/ran, and number of flights climbed. You can also hook it up to other fitness apps.
EXERCISE YOUR BRAIN
Download: Peak (free, from Google Play and iTunes)
To keep your brain continually challenged, there’s Peak, which offers a diverse range of games that targets memory, attention, problem-solving, mental agility and language. The instructions are simple, but the games can be challenging. I was nimble at sorting picture cards by shape and colour, but disappointed to find that I wasn’t as great at anagrams as I’d thought.
The scores are used to chart a brain map of your cognitive abilities, and you can even add Facebook contacts and start a friendly competition. You can also set reminders to hit Peak’s recommended target of five cognitive games a week.
LEARN A NEW LANGUAGE
Download: Duolingo (free, from Google Play and iTunes)
If picking up a new language is on your bucket list, Duolingo is right up your alley. Pick from 10 languages such as French, Spanish, and Portuguese, and the app will have you learning basic vocabulary (food, places, people, numbers and so on) and common phrases through its bite-sized lessons.
Forget about tedious grammar drills and repeating words ad nauseam. We love the cute, pictorial flash cards,
and the accompanying voice-overs are helpful in learning the correct pronunciation. So, if you’ve a spare minute during your commute or lunch break, just fire up Duolingo. Who knows, it might just come in handy as you prepare for your next vacation.
TUNE OUT STRESS
Download: Calm (free, from Google Play and iTunes)
Start the app and you’re greeted by a tranquil nature scene –think mountains, rain, sunrise, clouds and lakes – paired with a soothing soundtrack. You can leave it on as long as you like, letting the scene and sounds work their calming effects on you, or you can set the timer (from one minute to eight hours), which will then gently rouse you from the session with a soft chime.
Alternatively, select one of two free guided meditation programmes (Calm to ease tension, and Body Scan to relax), which range from two to 30 minutes. The meditation advice is neutral, with instructions like “Take a deep breath” and “Let your shoulders relax”. All these features are free, but you can subscribe at US$12.98 (S$18.40) a month to unlock more guided meditation sessions.
DRINK MORE WATER
Download: Water Your Body (free, from Google Play)
You know you need to keep well-hydrated, and that drinking water is the best way to do so. Experts tell us that dehydration causes dry skin, constipation, low energy levels and even dizzy spells. But it’s so easy to forget to drink enough throughout the day.
Water Your Body will help you set a daily water target based on your weight and height, and buzz you with reminders to drink up.
Logging your water intake is as easy as tapping on one of eight beverage container icons, from mugs to takeaway cups, bottles, pint glasses and more. You can specify the volume for each of these icons to reflect the serving size of the containers you usually drink from.
Alternatively, consider Water Tracker, free from iTunes. It lets you set a daily goal, sends you reminders, and you can also customise the capacity of your virtual glasses.
CULTIVATE GOOD HEALTH HABITS
Download: Toodledo (free, from Google Play; $4.98, from iTunes)
Toodledo is actually a to-do list app but its habit-tracking feature is impressive and should help you get on your way to living more healthily.
You can mark habits like “flossing” or “no junk food” as complete or incomplete. And for other habits, you can input the time spent on them, such as “hours of sleep” and “minutes on the treadmill”.
There is also a five-star rating option to help you track things like your daily fruit and vegetable intake – for instance, give yourself one star if you ate a piece of fruit, three stars if you had a side of veg with your chicken rice, or a full five stars if you had a salad for lunch. All this lets you track how much or little you’re doing for each habit, and hopefully, helps you make baby-step changes to your lifestyle.
WORK MORE EFFICIENTLY
Download: Pomodoro Time (free, from iTunes)
Work in short bursts and take frequent breaks to improve productivity – that’s the basis of the popular Pomodoro Technique its legions of fans swear by.
It goes like this: Decide on one task to work on, and focus solely on it for 25 minutes. When the timer buzzes, stop and take a five-minute breather. Now you’ve completed one Pomodoro cycle. After four cycles, take an extended break of 15 to 30 minutes to recharge. If you’re working on a large project, you’re encouraged to divide it into smaller, manageable chunks, and each of that can make one Pomodoro cycle.
Of course, the 25+5 combo is really just a guideline, and Pomodoro Time is flexible, so you can adjust task and break times to suit the nature of your work. The task-list feature is good for jotting down your goals for each cycle, and the app also tracks how productive you are by charting how many Pomodoros you’ve managed each day.
Alternatively, consider Pomotodo (free, from Google Play), which also lets you customise your Pomodoro durations and add tasks to a to-do list.
Download: Sworkit (free, from Google Play and iTunes)
Sworkit is all about workouts that work around your schedule. So depending on whether you have just five minutes to spare or a full hour, the app will recommend a sequence of exercises for you.
Start by selecting from four categories (strength, cardio, yoga and stretching), specify how much time you have, and it’ll have you sweating along to video demos by professional trainers.
If you prefer, you can design your own workouts too. There’s an extensive list of exercises to pick from – for instance, jumping jacks and push-ups under the Upper Body section, or burpees and planks if it’s Core Strength you’re after.
Sworkit even has Spotify playlists to keep your energy going. All you have to do is tap on the music note at the top right of your screen to be directed to your Spotify app (which you’d have to download in advance).