It Is What It Is: Gamify your fitness and up your game

Lisa Sugarman More Content Now

Tell me if this sounds at all familiar...

You’ve been exercising regularly for a really, really long time. You’ve put in your face time at the gym. You’ve logged your miles or your steps or your reps like it’s your religion. You’ve hiked and biked and paddled enough to get you to the west coast and back. And, yet, despite all the sweat, blood and in some cases tears, you haven’t lost a single bloody ounce.

Welcome to the plateau, my friend. That flat, stagnant, frustrating place where no change occurs.

We’ve all been there at one point, for varying amounts of time and for any number of different reasons. It’s that discouraging, depressing stage between progress and regression where pounds and inches and personal bests are frozen in time. I guess you could say it’s a lot like the Bermuda triangle of fitness, that mysterious place where all signs of progress disappear, potentially never to be seen again.

And for those of us who are constantly trying to maintain things like endurance and muscle mass and metabolism, the plateau is a place we desperately try to avoid.

But we’re lucky; we live in a world where we can more or less carry a personal trainer in our back pocket 24/7. Whether it’s a GPS watch or fitness apps like RunKeeper or FitBit or Nike + Running or Strava or My Fitness Pal or Lark, wearable devices and apps have enabled us to take control of our fitness in ways that ensure that we never plateau ever again.

I mean, take my own adorable 77-year-old mother who’s dropped 50-plus pounds over the last few years using nothing more than an old-school pedometer to track her progress. Although, over the last year she’s evolved to using apps like Lark, the mobile weight-loss and nutrition coach, that tracks almost every aspect of her physical wellbeing from the second she wakes up to the minute she falls asleep.

Not only does it keep accurate track of her steps, her daily nutrition, and calories burned, but it’s constantly talking to her, motivating her to make good choices. It reminds her to get up and move around, to eat clean, and to keep her eye on the prize. Honestly, the thing does everything but slap her on the ass when she finishes a walk. (If they ever add that as an update, though, I think my dad’s outta here.)

If you wanna get technical, what I’m talking about is called gamification.

In simple terms, it means using game-like technology in a non-gaming context to reinforce positive behavior. In even simpler terms, it means making a game out of your health and fitness. And as someone who’s always excited to mix it up and keep my muscles confused, I think gamification is the greatest advance in the fitness revolution since Richard Simmons and spandex.

Because with all the exercise and fitness apps that are floating around out there now, we have the ability to do something different every day of the week and keep our bodies in constant chaos. It’s beautiful!

Whether it’s a smartwatch or an iPhone or a device like a FitBit, we now have the ability to carry a personal coach, exercise log, fitness journal, and cheerleader with us around the clock.

The reality is, we’re living in a gadget and app-driven society that’s offering us almost unlimited creative and engaging ways to get and stay challenged. And because of it, fitness as we know it will never be the same. To be honest, with all the resources that are available to us now, there are really no more excuses for being unhealthy.

And the best part of all is that most of these apps and gadgets are totally customizable to suit our own personal goals. So whether you’re training for an Iron Man or you’re in your seventies and just trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, we’re really only competing against ourselves.

Unless, of course, you’re someone who feeds off competition and want to virtually compete against other runners or swimmers or walkers or bikers. Then there’s a whole network of people working out “together.” And for some people, that extra support is a real motivator.

It all boils down to making fitness fun and accessible and attainable. It’s about positive reinforcement and encouragement and, if you’re my mom, having some cute-sounding younger guy congratulate you when you hit your ten thousand step mark during the day. She lives for that.

Look, I don’t know about you, but I love some good old-fashioned positive reinforcement, and that’s exactly what these devices and apps and programs offer us. They cheer us on (preferably in an English accent), motivate us, and fit very neatly and compactly into our lives. And when we’re bored or not seeing progress with one program, we have thousands more to choose from that keep us from getting stale.

So if you’re looking for a way to raise your bar and amp things up, gamifying your fitness may just be the answer.

Uh oh, sorry, gotta go. My watch, Monty, just told me it’s time to go run ten miles. I’m just praying that after I’m done he tells me it’s ok to lie on the couch and watch a little Food Network.

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at She is also the author of “LIFE: It Is What It Is,” available on and select Whole Foods Market stores.