Workout support from a distance, thanks to technology

Tracy Levy of North Bellmore uses her smartphone

Tracy Levy of North Bellmore uses her smartphone while exercising at Retro Fitness in East Meadow Thursday, April 24, 2014. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

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When Tracy Burgess Levy hits the gym at 5:15 a.m., she's counting on her training buddies to help keep her motivated. Like many, she has a circle of friends who encourage each other, share new workouts, and swap ideas and stories.

The difference here is that none of these other women are actually in the same gym as Levy, who trains at Retro Fitness in East Meadow. Her extended family of about 20 fitness friends is working out at the same time in health clubs across Long Island. "We go from Teresa in Valley Stream to Lori in Montauk," says Levy.

By using her iPhone, Levy can text these women, speak to them, or share training videos she pulls off YouTube -- all while she's running on a treadmill or between sets with the kettle bells.

Levy and her friends are part of a digital revolution that has changed the social dynamics of the gym. While the analysis didn't look at the demographics of the users, a U.S. study done last year by the mobile analytics company Flurry found that 25- to 34-year-olds used fitness and health apps twice as much as the average of other age groups. The study also found that women are far more likely to use health and fitness apps than men.

And a recent analysis of Internet usage at Fitness First, one of Great Britain's largest health club chains, found that members are online an average of 72 minutes -- the entire duration of their time in the gym, in many cases.

As Levy and her group of friends, mostly in their 40s and 50s, show, not everyone on the elliptical machine using Spotify is a Millennial.

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"I've embraced technology in the gym wholeheartedly," says Levy, who gives her age as "just north of 50." She adds, "If we can motivate each other with text message or apps that track our progress . . . I'm all for that."

A former radio personality on WFAN who is now business development director for a construction firm in Islandia, Levy also emphasizes that she's not sacrificing the quality or intensity of her workout to engage with her friends. "We do this hands-free on the phone . . . or with pre-written messages," she says. "I'm not screaming into my phone or going slow on the treadmill so I can type."

However they do it, it seems to be working: Levy says going to the gym four days a week is not a chore, thanks in part to her online group. For this reason alone, new technology can have a positive role in the pursuit of fitness.

"Whatever helps people feel motivated to exercise is a good thing," says exercise kinesiologist Amanda Vogel, a spokeswoman on technology and fitness for the American College of Sports Medicine. "People tend to stick to exercise longer if they feel part of a community. Traditionally, we think of that community being in person, but there's no reason why a virtual community couldn't produce similar results."

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