Woman jogging in city streets listening to music

30 Days to a healthier heart

Author and speaker Ann Douglas tried out our new, improved <30 Days app. Here’s how it went.

Can you make the shift to a healthier lifestyle in 30 days or less? Absolutely.

Ann Douglas wearinga dark blue shirt with a light blue neckline standing infront of a white background.

Ann Douglas

And the relaunched <30 Days App from the Heart and Stroke Foundation will help to keep you motivated on a daily basis as you start the process of shifting gears.

I recently had the opportunity to test-drive this app. The Heart and Stroke Foundation approached me because of the positive experiences I had previously had using their risk assessment tool. I promised to write an honest review (the only kind I know how to write, frankly). I test-drove the app over a two-week period. What follows are the highlights of my diary.

Day 1: So far I like what I see. The <30 Days app is positive and encouraging and helps you zero in on the lifestyle changes that are likely to have the greatest impact on your life right now. For me, that means focusing on stress reduction and weight management. For someone else, it might mean quitting smoking, cutting back on alcohol, making healthier eating choices, or becoming more physically active. I’ve already had tremendous success using other lifestyle apps (I managed to lose 135 pounds over a two-year period by keeping a food diary using MyFitnessPal and tracking my activity level via Fitbit), so I’m eager to give this app a whirl, too.

Day 2: Committing to a healthier lifestyle can feel like a daunting prospect, but it doesn’t have to be — not if you focus on making one small change at a time. That’s one advantage of the <30 Days app. It serves up a manageable daily challenge in one of the areas that you’ve chosen (I learned later that you can focus on up to three areas at once). If you don’t like the one the app suggests, you can skip it and find a challenge that’s a better fit for you. You can also redo a previously completed challenge, which makes sense. It takes time for a new habit to “stick.”

Day 3: Today’s challenge is the “Meeting room detour” — and I’m taking it seriously. Instead of hopping in my car to drive to a morning meeting with a client, I walk. It feels great — and the steps I log during my hour-long walk really add up (about 7,500, to be precise). Speaking of those steps, the <30 Days app monitors physical activity by tracking movement via your smartphone. I’m hoping that a future update will allow <30 Days to synch with my Fitbit (the tiny activity tracker that lives on my arm 24/7) and other fitness trackers. (I had to make a conscious effort to bring my smartphone with me each time I headed out for a walk if I wanted <30 Days to give me credit for all of my steps.)

Day 4: I think the app developers had me (or someone an awful lot like me) in mind when they came up with the challenge I’m working on today. “Let go of something today,” the app advises. “Distract yourself. Choose not to pursue it…. Wasting energy and thoughts on trivial matters is unnecessary.” It can also be life-zapping. So, for today, I will remind myself to take a break from at least some of my worries — to let go of the insignificant stuff.

Day 5: Today’s challenge, about monitoring my weight, is another good one for me. I like the app’s sensible approach — striking a healthy balance between obsession (getting freaked out about tiny fluctuations) and blissful ignorance (a feeling that’s only blissful until the next time you step on the scale). The app serves up a helpful reminder that some fluctuation is normal, and prompts me to look beyond the number on the scale— by considering how well my clothes are (or aren’t) fitting, for example.

This brings to mind my only major quibble with the app: its all-or-nothing approach to weight as a risk factor. The risk assessment tool that’s built into the app labels you “overweight or obese” — and at elevated risk of health problems — whether you are one kilogram or 100 kilograms overweight. Yes, I am temporarily overweight (the result of a high sodium meal that I consumed yesterday). Does this mean that weight should be flagged as a major issue for me? I don’t think so. I hope future updates of <30 Days will help users differentiate their level of risk when it comes to weight.

Day 7: Today’s challenge (“Write it down”) was an easy one for me. I’ve been keeping a food journal for 2½ years! Not only does keeping a food journal “help you identify your eating habits and make new, healthier habits,” as the app points out, it also helps to reinforce your commitment to your big-picture health goals. The journal has been life-changing for me — and it’s a habit I intend to stick with.

Day 9: Sometimes when I go to bed at night, I feel like I’ve been carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders — to say nothing of in my neck. Today’s challenge (“Heads will roll”) is a timely reminder to shrug my shoulders and roll out that stress throughout the day: “For each hour you sit at your desk or computer today, roll your shoulders and head once or twice…. This will help relieve tension and prevent strain.”

Day 10: Have you ever gobbled down a meal or a snack, only to realize that you’d eaten far more than your body actually wanted or needed? This used to be my norm (a very unhealthy norm), which is what drew me to today’s “Learn to pace” challenge. “For one of your meals today, slow down your eating pace,” the app suggests. “It takes at least 20 minutes after eating for the body to release the hormones that make you feel satiated or full.” Sensible advice I’ll be returning to.

Day 11: One of the most powerful things you can do, when you’re trying to make lasting lifestyle changes, is to team up with another person who shares your commitment to leading a healthier life. That’s what today’s challenge (“Choose a buddy”) is all about: joining forces with another person so that you can cheer one another along (whether they are users of the app, or not). And, as I’ve learned through my own experience, having a buddy can mean experiencing the best kind of peer pressure. I can’t help but feel motivated to get off the couch and take a walk around the block if my buddy just texted me to rave about her after-dinner run.

Day 13: I’ve accepted the “Green and orange” challenge today—and, no, that doesn’t mean that I’ll be dressing up like a pumpkin. It’s about eating colourful vegetables. At lunch, I treat myself to a grilled veggie extravaganza: sweet potatoes, zucchini, red pepper, and purple onion, with a spinach salad on the side. (Yum!)

Day 14: The app scores major points with my inner Girl Guide by awarding me the Healthy Living Promoter badge (for successfully completing 15 lifestyle challenges to date) and the Walking Warrior badge (for logging 100,000 steps with the app). It feels good to be recognized for my ongoing commitment to being the healthiest possible me. (What can I say? I’ve always been a sucker for a badge.)

Will I stick with this app, now that I’ve wrapped up my “official” evaluation? Definitely. There are a few challenges (“Stress eater” “Let it go!” and “Learn to pace,” for example) that I plan to revisit on a regular basis because they’re likely to be life-long issues for me. Having reminders pop up on my smartphone will help to ensure that they remain top of mind as I continue to work hard at maintaining my weight loss and reaping the countless dividends (both physical and mental) of daily physical activity.

 

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