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Fitness trackers are great motivators, seniors say, for stepping up activity, feeling younger
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Fitness trackers are great motivators, seniors say, for stepping up activity, feeling younger

Pickleball gang

Fred Coffman, left, plays pickleball weekly at Common Ground community gym in Elkhorn. The sport gives him a chance to stretch his muscles, rev his heart rate and share a few laughs with fellow players, all thriving at age 55-plus.

Retired Omaha attorney Fred Coffman doesn’t spend his days in court – he spends them on it. Over the last couple of years, the active 77-year-old has developed quite a taste for pickleball, a fast-growing court sport that combines tennis, table tennis and badminton.

“I like pickleball because you bend, you stretch. You’re moving frontward, backward and sideways, reaching up, reaching down,” he says.

Coffman, who completed his first half-marathon at age 74, complements regular pickleball play with outdoor walking and time on the treadmill and elliptical. All the while, his preferred fitness tracker – the low-cost Fitbit Flex 2– is tallying his steps/miles and calories burned. At night, it’s even keeping tabs on how well and how long he’s sleeping. The data automatically uploads to an app on his iPhone.

IMG_5944.jpg

Fred Coffman holds his own at pickleball. It's part of his weekly fitness routine at Common Ground community gym in Elkhorn. He uses a Fitbit Flex 2 to track his activity and calories burned.

“It keeps you active if you have a desire to meet the goals of getting your little dot each day clicked off. I’m very pleased with it,” says Coffman, who also uses the diet management app Lose It!

More than cool gadgetry, studies show an actual health-enhancing benefit: People who use fitness trackers and exercise apps are more likely to exercise during their leisure time compared to those who don’t. Coffman says he is motivated to get in at least 10,000 steps a day, knowing that his Fitbit is tracking.

“If I’m short, I’ll get up and walk in circles around the house. I do this during football games. I’ll walk during the timeouts, commercials and half-times. You can put on 2,000-3,000 steps a game by doing that,” he says.

Faithful runner

Jim Carraher, 62, relies on the free Samsung Health app, which tracks physical activity, diet and sleep. He does CrossFit and runs at least two times a week, often along Zorinsky Lake.

Jim Carraher, 62, relies on the free Samsung Health app, which also tracks physical activity, diet and sleep. He runs at least a couple of times a week and does CrossFit. He says the app does push him to get off the couch and complete his workouts.

“It allows me to compete against myself. That’s the stiffest competition we all have – is pushing ourselves,” he said. “We can pull the ‘age card’ all day long, but we’re going to feel younger and be more fit if we get out and do this stuff.”

While apps and other tech can help overcome barriers to – and increase the likelihood of – exercising, wading through information about the 1,000-plus available options can be a workout all its own.

TRACKERS YOU MIGHT LIKE

Check the various “best lists” – whether they’re compiled by wired.com, PC Mag or some other outlet – for wearable fitness trackers, and you’ll see recurring brand names and products, including:

  • Fitbit Charge 3, Ionic, Versa; $149-$269
  • Apple Watch Series 4; $399
  • Garmin Forerunner 35, Vivoactive 3 Music, Vivosmart 4, Vivosport; $129-$245

APPS TO EXPLORE

In the realm of popular health and fitness mobile apps, Redbytes Software ranks these highest:

  • Aaptiv (personal training)
  • Headspace (meditation)
  • Sworkit (customized workout plans)
  • Lifesum (“healthy life app”)
  • Active.com’s list of app favorites includes:
  • Couch to 5K (beginner 5K training)
  • Sleep Cycle (sleeptracking for easier wake-ups)
  • Charity Miles (fundraising workouts)
  • Happify (daily tasks to improve overall outlook)

Both outlets gave a “thumbs up” to MyFitnessPal, a free diet and exercise tracking app that’s also a favorite of Omaha naturopathic doctor Nikki Kendall.

“I find MyFitnessPal not only easy to use for my clients, but also for myself,” she said. “It’s an easy way for me to review my client’s nutrition, hold them accountable to healthy choices and adjust their recommendations as needed. It also allows me to track their progress and overcome plateaus when and if they arise.”

She recommends pairing MyFitnessPal with a fitness professional: “Everybody and every body is different. It takes a well-educated professional to recognize and adapt to the unique needs of each individual.”

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska offers its members, at no additional cost, that combination of tech and human connection with the HIPAA-secure Wellframe app, a comprehensive health management program. All users are assigned a BCBSNE nurse care manager who helps develop a personalized wellness plan.

“I had this professional who was shoulder-to-shoulder with me the entire time,” said Clint Baker, 60. “They were always there to give me resources and suggestions.”

For Coffman, whether he is on the pickleball court or the basement treadmill, his reason for staying active is as straightforward as the Fitbit fitness tech he uses:

“Basically, I want to live.”

Visit omaha.com and read more stories like this in Blue Cross and Blue Shield Nebraska's Thrive 55+ series. 

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