My ideal life is that of the humans in Wall-E: strapped to a hoverchair with a screen broadcasting directly into my eyeballs. Unfortunately, here on Earth, we must occasionally move our bodies. I've never had an active lifestyle beyond living in walkable cities that kept me at just the right amount of steps to balance things out. But I've gotten older, and I now live in a city built for cars, so things have started to change. My jeans are a little tighter, and I'm constantly battling exhaustion. Turns out doing nothing besides working at a desk doesn't make you feel good.
At first, I tried walking on a treadmill every day, and I stuck to it for a while. But it got boring fast, and a few missed sessions later, I ditched it. I started looking at the internet for help. There are an unfathomably vast number of fitness apps, services, and influencers parading around their own programs—focusing on the idea of sculpting a perfect body—but the only one focused broadly on feeling healthier that caught my attention was an account called GrowWithJo (thanks to my TikTok For You page).
The creator, Johanna Devries, has an infectious smile as she works out and posts reactions to her followers showing off their own results using her fitness routines. These weren't people spending hours in the gym or following rigorous diets. The moves seemed easy, and dare I say, a little fun. I tried her videos myself and quickly found myself enjoying my time; the exercise moves are simple, but I was drenched in sweat and feeling the burn.
I followed Devries' free YouTube videos for a while—there are hundreds to choose from—but I knew I needed something that forced some accountability and tracking. A personal trainer was out of my price range, but thankfully, there's a GrowWithJo app (iOS, Android). It's the only app I've ever paid money for, and I don't regret it. It's $20 per month, but you should go for the much more sensible $60 per year option.
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The app is categorized between workouts you can do on any given day and multi-week programs. I started with Easy Bounce Foward+, which is a five-day-per-week program for beginners to focus on the whole body without any equipment. (Some programs do use equipment like dumbbells, but the app clearly notes what is required.) I love that I can select the days I want to exercise and the days I want to rest, and it then sorts the calendar for me.
The workouts on the app aren't the same as what you'll find on the GrowWithJo YouTube channel. They're more traditional but are done in a way I appreciate. Each day has an assortment of moves you perform following a prerecorded video of Jo, with a short explanation of how to do it. Instead of just laying out 10 moves to cycle through multiple times, the videos play in order; when a move repeats, so do the instructions. That's helpful to beginners like me.
The programs are organized well with enough breaks in between to drink water and catch your breath, but not so much that you start to get too tired too quickly and don't want to continue. I also like that there are dozens of workouts to choose from, including full-body programs, and ones that focus on specific areas like your abs or butt. She even includes workouts for during and after pregnancy (Jo herself is a mom), and the app has a section for meditations, nature sounds, and breathing exercises for when you need a moment of peace.
Food for the Soul
Exercising is hard, but controlling my diet is even harder. I'm Italian. Food is everything to me. I love greasy, salty, cheesy food that makes me feel warm and happy, and I am not willing to eat miserable, boring food to lose a few pounds. The problem is, as an American, my sense of serving sizes is skewed. More nights than not, I overeat to the point of a stomach ache.
The GrowWithJo app includes meal suggestions, though they're hit or miss for my tastes. They're still better than many of the recommendations I've found after some Googling. The app's upcoming recommendations are honey ricotta toast for breakfast, a teriyaki sushi bowl for lunch, a chicken Caprese pasta salad for dinner, and a berry smoothie snack. You can change out entire days or single meals for a choice you like better.
If you're really committed, the app generates a shopping list so you can be on top of things (and it'll include items you'll need for a week of meals, or a selected range). There are meal plans for classic, vegetarian, and vegan options—sometimes I'll switch mine to vegetarian to get better ideas for a meatless diet—and you can choose if you're eating to lose, maintain, increase your weight, or build muscle mass. Have I given up every meal I love for what the app suggests? No. But seeing the meals, ingredients, and portion sizes taught me more about nutrition without it feeling like a lesson.
No app is going to make me love working out. I'd much rather lounge on my couch with a bag of Flamin' Hot Cheetos by my side. But I do want to be healthy and happy. I've tried and given up a lot of exercise programs, but this one actually keeps me interested. GrowWithJo feels like it's focused more on genuinely being healthy and learning better habits to incorporate into your life, rather than enrolling in a boot camp to get a “summer body.” That, a gal can appreciate.
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