Don't have a workout buddy? Find one on your phone. Virtual social circles can help you lose weight—provided the process is fun, says a new study in JMIR Research Protocols.
Researchers asked people to keep a log of their daily fitness habits, requiring some participants to add a social game to their routine. Players earned points for tracking activity or setbacks, which were redeemable for rewards. After 10 weeks, participants who played the game exercised more often and decreased their body mass index more than regular exercisers.
The key to weight-loss success is adding little bit of playfulness to the mix, says lead researcher Marientina Gotsis, director of the Creative Media & Behavioral Health Center at the University of Southern California. Tracking your habits in a diary is effective, but adding in a fun aspect like a game can make your regimen easier to complete, she says.
The game used in the study isn't available to the public, but there are plenty of weight-loss apps that can help you hit your health goals—with a little help from your friends. Here are three of our favorites.
Reward-hungry workout warriors use Nexercise to rack up points—and prizes. Every 2 minutes spent sweating equals 10 points, and if you accumulate enough, you could win goods like Propel Fitness Water and an Amazon gift card. (Free for iOS and Android)
This app hits you where it hurts: your wallet. You set how many days a week you'll hit the gym and choose what you're willing to pay if you don't follow through (for example, you might sign up for 5 days a week, with $5 on the line each day). Every week, the money paid by non-exercisers who missed their workouts is divided and paid out to those who met their goals. You can't cheat, either: GymPact keeps you honest by making you check into your gym via your smartphone each time you go. (Free for iOS and Android)
Got friends and family with dough? HealthRally lets them pledge money toward your success. Designate an end date and a motivating reward—like new running shoes or an iPad—and pick your supporters. The idea is kind of like Kickstarter: You keep your pals updated on your progress, and they pitch in for your prize. But if you don't reach your end goal, all that cash goes back to your donors. (And you start avoiding family reunions.) (Free for iOS and Android)