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Fitness gizmos you might have some day

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By now I figure that you’re nearly finished with your holiday shopping, or so sick of it that the last thing you want is another annual list of fitness-related gifts for your loved ones. No problem! Here are two interesting fitness accessories that you can’t buy yet, but probably will covet someday soon.

(Full-service disclaimer: I haven’t tried these and don’t know whether they work. Like I said, they’re not even available yet. One was brought to my attention by its creator; the other I stumbled upon. There might be competitors working on similar ideas.)

Let’s start with some remarkable ear-bud technology under development by a North Carolina company, Valencell. In addition to piping your favorite tunes into your head as you slog away on the elliptical machine, those same tiny devices will measure your heart rate, calorie burn, distance, speed, pace and VO2 max. They will send all this info wirelessly, in real time, to your smart phone or, if you’d like, whisper these sweet nothings of athletic progress directly into your ear.

I’ve (unfortunately) had my VO2 max tested in a lab. The data are the gold standard of aerobic fitness, a measure of how well your body takes in oxygen, transports it to your blood, circulates it to tissues and uses it to produce energy. The test involves complicated technology that collects your exhalations and measures them.

Valencell co-founder Steven LeBoeuf told me the company’s tests show the accuracy of the sensors is within 7 percent of laboratory VO2 max tests. If true, the Valencell product would make good information available to the masses. It also would eliminate the chest strap some people use now to accurately measure heart rate.

Valencell is licensing its technology to ear bud companies. LeBoeuf says it should be available next year at a price in the low three figures, or similar to high-end headphones.

In Melbourne, Australia, some academic researchers are working to help keep all you socially inept runners on pace during your workouts. Yes, I mean you, guy-who-no-one-wants-to-run-with-because-you’re-so-annoying. Exertion Games Lab, part of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, has invented the Joggobot, a flower-shaped hovercraft that will help you to stay on pace.

Using a small camera, the quad-copter recognizes brightly colored panels on a runner’s shirt and positions itself one meter off the ground and three meters ahead. If it loses sight of the shirt panels, it lands softly until the camera picks up the panels again, then rises from the ground and continues its task of pacing the runner. There’s no word on when you’ll see these gizmos in stores — my calls and e-mails to Exertion Games Lab were not returned.

Will automated companions encourage people to turn off their video games and work out? I don’t know. There are dogs that can do the same thing. But this contraption will never drag you off the trail to chase a squirrel.

And what happens when two Joggobots encounter one another? Will one pick up the pace to show it’s faster, like that annoying guy we all hate to run with? Which would sort of defeat the purpose.

Another year over already?

Everyone mocks “resolutionaries,” those people who make ironclad vows to begin fitness programs each new year, crowd our gyms in January and disappear by February. But I personally find it helpful to look back over my workout log about this time each year, total up my wins and losses, and set some goals for next year. (If you don’t keep a log, I urge you to try it.)

Losses: I utterly failed — again — to add strength training, flexibility work or balance exercises to my routine in any meaningful or consistent way. I don’t enjoy any of them, and with all the usual time pressures, they’re easy to skip. Yet they are as important — no, as essential — as cardio work for someone my age (54).

My brief flirtation with bicycling to work ended before I made that part of my life, either. I really enjoyed it, but it’s time-consuming,and once I started running longer distances, I just couldn’t work it in. I intend to try again.

Small victory: As I write this, I weigh two pounds less than I did on Jan. 1. Though I definitely need to lose weight, I’ll take it, because I easily could be going the other way. And my diet remains less than healthful.

Win: I ran the first two ultramarathons of my life, a 50K in October and the JFK 50-mile run last month. Both experiences were fantastic, if very painful. I’ve moved from “never again” the night I finished the JFK to “maybe I’ll do it again next year.”

Goals: Strength training (yeah, I know, dream on); more cycling to work (seriously?); improving my running speed; training for some kind of event I haven’t done before; getting my 14-year-old daughter into a regular exercise routine (now we’re talking miracles).

Okay, 2012 is in the books. Nothing you can do about it. On to 2013. With apologies to Joe Hill: “Don’t mourn, exercise.”

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Also at washingtonpost.com Read past columns by Bernstein and Vicky Hallett at washingtonpost.com/wellness . There, you can subscribe to the Lean & Fit newsletter to get health news e-mailed to you every Tuesday.

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