Apps and other electronic fitness aids
Let me guess: You've resolved to get healthier in 2011. That goal is nothing new, but the technology you can use is. Want to carry a personal trainer in your pocket to the gym, mountain board from the comfort of your living room, calculate exactly how fast you ran the first mile of your morning jog or get gift cards in exchange for sweating? It's all easy to do with the right gizmos.
Mind the app
Probably the only thing growing faster than the obesity rate in this country is the number of health-care and fitness programs in the iTunes App Store. There are thousandsto choose from, including the popular Lose It! , a free calorie counter launched in November 2008 that lets you input your exercise and anything you've eaten to help you slim down. Charles Teague, co-founder of FitNow, which makes Lose It!, thinks going mobile has been critical to users' success. "Instead of being something you track at the end of each day, you know now," he says. "If I'm stopping to pick up a bagel, I can check how I'm doing that day. Have I been out of control?"
That is, unless you don't have an iPhone. So late last month, "Lose It!" released a book (and, of course, a Kindle edition) to reach out to the masses. The major difference between the application and the book is that the latter contains in-depth content, such as explanations of why weight training is beneficial, which fitness apps have been light on - so far.
Teague's other favorite apps are ones that rely on GPS to measure your speed and distance when you're running, walking or cycling. RunKeeper , a freebie that works on iPhone and Droid, is his pick. (RunKeeper Pro, normally $10, is free in January.) But there are a ton of others that provide a similar service, including Endomondo (which is available for iPhone, Droid and BlackBerry, and offers a social media component) and Adidas miCoach (which is available for iPhone and BlackBerry, and provides vocal encouragement from top athletes). Both are free.
If you have a specific goal, there are apps for that, too. The classic is Hundred PushUps ($2), which has spawned several pals, including Two Hundred Squats and Twenty Chinups ($2 each). A newly revamped, free option is the NikeWomen Training Club , a series of workouts designed to help you "get lean," "get toned," "get strong" or "get focused" on specific body parts. The video exercise clips feature women, so if you're looking for more testosterone, download the just-released Stack Attack ($3), featuring elite trainer Tim Grover and 80 bodyweight moves.
Tech companies are stepping it up when it comes to gadgets, which now go way beyond what basic pedometers can count.
Triathlon training has been revolutionized by GPS-enabled heart-rate monitors (from $200) made by Garmin and other manufacturers. The devices give data geeks an incredible amount of information to digest about their sports performance. If your goal is to lose weight, however, you'll probably be more interested in the Bodybugg ($165-$219), BodyMedia Fit ($199-$260) and Fitbit ($99).
The first two are armbands that measure your movement and level of intensity, while the simpler Fitbit clips to your clothes and estimates activity. All of them are pretty cool, especially because you can link up that info with smartphone apps. But exercise physiologist Mary Jayne Johnson, a spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise , warns that it takes a certain personality type to want that many numbers.
The majority of folks just need something to get them going. And the best product for that may be S2H Replay ($20), a watch that can tell when you're engaged in moderate to intense physical activity. You can check if you're working out hard enough by pressing a button that'll show either a smiley or frowny face. Keep up the smile for 60 minutes (either at once or over several bursts of activity), and you'll get a reward code for points toward gift cards at stores such as Target, Toys 'R' Us and Sports Authority.
In March, S2H expects to release a pedometer version. But if you want to get walking now, snatch up GeoPalz ($20 each), kiddie pedometers that let you earn credit toward sports equipment.
"You are the controller." That's the slogan for Kinect ($150), the Xbox 360 add-on that has the fitness world abuzz. Along with PlayStation's Move ($100) and the good old Wii ($200), there's no doubt that gamers of the future will be standing up and jumping around rather than sinking deeper into the living room couch.
Even more amazing than these three video game systems' ability to read your body movements is the potential of their fitness games to make movement more fun. Take EA Sports Active 2 ($60 on Amazon.com): If you select mountain boarding, you'll hold a squat, repeatedly jump 180 degrees and run in place. But you'll be focused on getting that positive feedback, which is more motivating than just slogging through another set. The system also broadcasts your heart rate, so you'll know instantly that you're working harder.
Last year, the American Council on Exercise released not-so-positive results from its study of Wii Fit because the game's activities don't burn as many calories as the actual ones would, but Johnson says it's a matter of expectations. "It's not the same as going out for a run, but getting up and moving is important. Certainly it's better than sitting," says Johnson, who particularly likes the focus on balance and coordination.
Kinect and Move haven't been out long enough to get the same scrutiny, but chances are they'll still fall short of real-world exercise. Having more choices is a step forward, however, and as technology improves, players' movements will hopefully become more complex, there won't be as many pauses between exercises and calorie expenditure will go up.
For now, appreciate the video game option for what it is: a good time and a good start to keeping that new year's resolution.