Gadgets can track your sleep, monitor eating habits and help you stay fit


The Fitbit Flex is one of several new inventions that allow people to track their activity and transfer the data to smartphones. ( AFP/Getty Images )
July 29, 2013

Even the pros occasionally need a fitness reality check.

Jessica Matthews, a spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise, says a fitness tracking device she wore made her realize that she wasn’t reaching her goal of 10,000 steps daily, even with regular workouts. As a result, Matthews stepped it up by exploring longer routes while walking her two dogs.

To help people become more aware of their physical activity — or lack of it — companies are marketing high-tech gadgets with claims that they can measure movement, sleep, food intake and weight. Here’s a quick look at some of the devices available now or coming soon. (None of them were tested in Consumer Reports’ labs.)

Wrist gadgets

Older devices, such as pedometers, simply count your steps, but the newer trackers are designed to continually monitor all of your movements. Some of them can also track your sleep quality and calories burned, and even automatically transfer the information to your smartphone or computer.

Some of the gadgets can be worn around the clock, such as the Fitbit Flex ($100), which looks like a wristband. It tracks the number of times you wake up during the night, counts the number of calories you’ve burned and lets you enter what you eat via online and smartphone tools. The Fitbug Orb ($50; available this summer, according to the manufacturer) can be worn several ways, including on a lanyard (included). The Nike+ FuelBand ($149) lets you set fitness goals, monitor your progress and share the information with others via social media outlets. You can also use it as a watch.

You need to be somewhat tech-savvy to use many such devices because they need to be set up properly. Once you start using them, the data are transferred to your computer, tablet or smartphone. Matthews suggests doing your homework, such as reading user reviews, before buying them since you might not need all the extras. If you’re looking for something simpler, you can use a basic pedometer. Consumer Reports rated the Mio Trace Acc-Tek ($35) and the Omron GOsmart Pocket HJ-112 ($35) as two of the best step counters in its most recent tests.

Phone gadgets

Almost half of all Americans carry smartphones, according to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center. That means that many of us might be able to turn to easy-to-use fitness apps to help step up our workouts. The Nike Training Club app (free for Apple and Android users) offers more than 100 workouts, with nicknames like “Hurricane” and “Slim Chance,” and it includes 15-minute bonus workouts featuring such Olympic athletes as Allyson Felix and Shawn Johnson.The workouts are offered at three fitness levels.

Another app, called the Daily Workout, helps to tone specific areas of your body. Its Daily Arm Workout includes five- and 10-minute exercises that demonstrate the proper technique (free for Apple and Android users; 99 cents for additional exercises and no ads). The same company also offers exercises to strengthen your heart, legs and buttocks.

Diet gadgets

The HAPIfork is an eating utensil that vibrates and lights up if you eat too quickly. It also transfers your eating-habit information to your computer or smartphone ($99; available starting in November, its maker says). Its maker claims that eating more slowly “will improve the way you feel after every meal, enhance your digestion and reduce your weight.” The fork is meant to make you more aware of what you’re consuming. A small study last year linked being more mindful about your eating habits to weight loss in women who frequently ate out.

Bathroom gadgets

Smart scales such as the Fitbit Aria Wi-Fi ($130) and the Withings Wireless WS-30 ($100) can automatically upload your weight via a WiFi connection to your computer, tablet or smartphone to help you keep track of your daily progress.

Bottom line: It’s important to keep moving as well as to keep watching your weight. Use whatever helps you stay motivated — whether the method is high-tech or not.

Copyright 2013. Consumers Union of United States Inc.

For further guidance, go to www.ConsumerReports.org/Health, where more detailed information, including CR’s ratings of prescription drugs, treatments, hospitals and healthy-living products, is available to subscribers.

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