Like so many of us, Ann Douglas had been struggling for years to get healthy and lose weight.
“I always felt like my weight was my nemesis, the one thing in my life that I couldn’t get a grip on, because I had been successful in all kinds of other ways,” Douglas told Global News.
The writer and blogger decided to take a health risk assessment on the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s website – that decision changed her life.
“It was kind of a wake-up call to me because I had always known that I was carrying around a lot of extra weight…when you take a risk assessment and it spells out in black and white that you’re actually, you know, obese,” Douglas said, “There were significant health risks associated with that.”
She discovered just how much of a health risk her extra weight and constant stress posed.
“It stressed that I needed to be exercising more often because I was exercising never. That was pretty black and white, and it also recommended stress reduction kind of strategies and also losing weight,” Douglas said.
Douglas knew she had to lose some weight and establish an exercise regime. Using a combination of a food diary app and a fitness tracker she began a two-year journey that eventually led her to losing 135 pounds.
“[With the apps] I could track my steps and the combination of the two, of knowing of what I’m eating and knowing how much I’m exercising. It makes it just like balancing a cheque book where it’s sort of like money in, money out, calories in, calories out. And you know whether you’re doing the balance right or not,” Douglas said.
After her significant weight loss, Douglas knew the challenge would be staying motivated, keeping her stress under control and not sliding backward. For that, she turned to the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s newly revamped <30 Days app.
“What I liked is the fact that [the app has] little encouraging psychological insights… I’m at a point in my journey where I’m looking more for enforcement and encouragement,” said Douglas.
When the free app initially launched in 2012 it became Canada’s top downloaded health app in the iTunes app store. The Heart and Stroke Foundation recently revamped the app with a new look and new features, like a step counter, more challenges, and has made it available on the Android platform.
“Its small digestible challenges that people can do,” Ahmad Zbib, director of digital health and innovation at Heart and Stroke told Global News.
But one of the more important improvements says Zbib is the users’ ability to customize challenges. The foundation had received feedback from users saying that they wanted to be able to personalize them.
Now, according to Zbib, the improved app “…digs deep into your health history and what you need to do to achieve your goals, whether that’s in the area of diet, weight, physical activity, managing stress or other risk factors…”
The app then uses that information to provide users with the more personalized challenges they were looking for.
Douglas was one of the app testers. She found the challenges like “Let it go,” which challenged her to let go of something she was stressing over, were what made the app appealing and kept her motivated.
“The challenges are really unique I have never used a health app that customizes what your goals are and then gives you challenges on that basis. So it knows that stress is a big deal for me … so it’s encouraging me to reach out for social support and choose my battles,” she said
Douglas said ultimately the most important thing for people trying to lose weight or develop a healthier lifestyle is to be kind to themselves.
“I think it’s just really practical and encouraging,” she said.
Heart disease and stroke is the No. 1 cause of death in Canada. Close to 80 per cent of heart and stroke disease, if caught early, is preventable by establishing healthy lifestyle habits, according to the foundation.
The <30 Days app is aimed to help Canadians establish those habits by breaking down big goals like losing weight and exercising more into small manageable daily challenges.
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