Athlete using fitness app on smartphone and smartwatch.
Athlete using fitness app on smartphone and smartwatch.

Just as SA was coming to terms with adjusted level 4 lockdown restrictions, many gyms shut their doors again and businesses sent their staff home in response to the insurrection (or counter-revolution or organic protests, depending on your political persuasion) in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

When we are sent home, or choose to stay home, we spend more time on our cellphones. Let’s be honest for a moment — 2021 is not 1981, being at home does not mean playing with children, doing the garden, cleaning the house, or even finally replacing the worn washers in the kitchen taps.

It means obsessively swiping through our smartphones. Either, it would appear from personal experience, your personality is one that seeks escapism — where you spend your time browsing through things that distract you from events that are stressing you out, or one that enjoys self-inflicted punishment — where you obsessively consume more of the media that has already triggered dangerously high levels of adrenalin and cortisol.

Life around the world, and in SA specifically, has become very intense. What then of fitness and health? Where does it fit? Sure, we can read as much as we want, but how do we actually know what people are spending their time doing, if anything at all?

Of course, you could visit the local gym. The one that the author has chosen to support — not out of necessity as he has a home gym, but out of empathy because he knows how much they need their debit orders to pay staff — stays open until 4pm, after which it is still under instruction to shut down for safety. You could pop in and see for yourself how empty it is. A weight-laden ghost town.

And so, if Covid-19 and an attempted insurrection has forced us into our homes and turned us into a captive online audience, then having a look at the top apps being downloaded will, perhaps, paint a picture of where the public is headed with fitness and wellness.

App Annie is a platform that tracks the top app downloads on IOS and Android. One can filter this across regions. And so, we took a look at the top App downloads in SA as of July 21.

Among the free apps, only one fitness or wellness app makes the top 50: an app called Present: Guided Meditation. Not surprising when the national temperature is in the red. Most of the top free downloaded apps are social media sites, with TikTok being number one. Microsoft Teams appears at number four because many of us with smartphones are working from home.

There are no fitness or wellness apps on the paid downloads. Number two on the list is the most ominous: SAPS License Competency. It seems more citizens feel the need to arm themselves. The rest of the paid section is dominated by games.

Fitness and diet app concept.
Fitness and diet app concept.

The top grossing apps list is where we see fitness and wellness make an appearance — this is a good sign as it means there is money to be made in this industry. It’s just a pity this money is going to silicone valley millionaires and not to SA entrepreneurs. As of July 21, Strava is the ninth-highest grossing fitness app, one place below Netflix. Sweat: Fitness App for Women is the 14th highest-grossing app in the country.

Calm makes an appearance at number 41, Flow Ovulation Period Tracker shows up at 47, while Mindvalley: Learn and Evolve, is number 49. The highest-grossing app in the country for the period is YouTube, followed by Tinder and Candy Crush Saga.

This gives us an idea of where fitness and wellness stack on the list of SA priorities at the moment — at least from the perspective of what we use our smartphones for. Nowhere.

It becomes a lot more interesting when we zone in on health and fitness apps exclusively.

The top 10 most-downloaded free health and fitness apps in SA are, from number one to number 10: Present, Guided Meditation; Discovery; Flo Ovulation Period Tracker; Rise: Sleep and Energy Tracker; Vibrate +; Fitness & Workout; Motivation — Daily Quotes; Muscle Booster Workout Planner; Sweatcoin Walking Step Counter; and Nike Run Club. MyFitnessPal is edged to number 11.


It is perhaps not surprising that attaining mental calm is the top priority, with the first actual workout app showing up at number six.

The top ten list for the most-downloaded paid apps in SA is: The Wonder Weeks; 75 Hard; AutoSleep Sleep Tracker; Carb Wise; WaterMinde;, Sezzy Timer; Die 28 Dae Eetplan; Keto Diet — Ketogenic Recipes; Activity+; and Calorie Counter Pro.

Again, there is a clear bias towards wellness and mindfulness, with a keen interest — it would appear — on clean eating. Perhaps it’s all the at-home working while being distracted by the threat of a coup? Or perhaps it is the subconscious drive to eat everything we’ve stockpiled.

It’s in the top-grossing apps list where real workout programmes make an appearance. The top 10 list in SA for July 21 is: Strava; Sweat; Fitness App for Women; Zwift: Ride and Run; Calm; Flo Ovulation Period Tracker; Headspace: Mediation & Sleep; MyFitnessPal; Noom; Sleep Cycle Sleep Tracker; and Rise: Sleep and Energy Tracker.

It is abundantly clear — well, at least to the author who brings with him a healthy dose of confirmation bias — that authentic online training and real exercise is not under threat.

Fitness and wellness don’t come close to online dating, social media, and games in the list of SA priorities. That being said — apps are definitely worth downloading, because, if anything, they will send push notifications to our devices and remind us to breathe or go for a run.

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