Fitness technology seems to be the perfect marriage of love for gadgetry and America’s never-ending quest to stay healthy. Today’s technologies track everything from calories burned to whether one’s back is straight. Most of all, they are stylish “wearable technology.”
Computer apps turn smartphones into an electronic personal trainer. It’s the information age, and technology today provides that information in abundance.
Josh Smith of BodySmith Fitness notes, “The two steepest upward curves we see economically are fitness and technology. The intersection of the two is a genius idea.”
However, Josh adds that in many cases people have data that they don’t know how to compute. “Unless you know how to apply the knowledge gained, it’s not going to do much for you,” he explains.
David Harvin, head trainer at Hampton Hills Athletic Club, agrees. “The problem is that people don’t know what to do with the data. They’re still left with finding someone to help them with the training program.”
James Scott of James Scott Fitness likes some of the more established brands like FitBit and Garmin products, but he warns consumers that they have to be careful when selecting fitness devices. Apple, for example, stopped making the fuel band because it wasn’t any good; people could squat straight up and down and it would still count steps. James believes trackers that come with smartphones are more precise.
Also, many newer apps combine fitness with video gaming. “In the 21st century,” James says, “if you can’t engage the participant, you lose them. People want to do something that holds them accountable, and that type of gaming system does just that.”
Dr. Brie Turner McGrievy, assistant professor at the Arnold School of Public Health in the Department of Health Promotion, Education and Behavior offers a counter opinion. “We do know that people tend to decrease their use over time even with these really engaging technologies. It’s often not enough to earn badges or get immediate feedback on behavior.”
Brie also suggests some of the preconceptions these gadgets and apps promote aren’t based in science. Most devices tend to have 10,000 steps as the daily goal for people. Brie says, “There probably isn’t anything magical about the 10,000 cut off.” For no studies have demonstrated that 10,000 is more beneficial than 9,000 steps or less beneficial than 15,000 steps.
Danielle Schoffman, a doctoral candidate at the Arnold School, has a published paper regarding fitness apps. She reviewed all iPhone and iPad weight loss and behavior-change apps targeting children to determine whether they were promoting expert recommendations — proven strategies and behavior standards. Her study found that 61 percent of the apps did not use any of the standards or behavioral targets. However, Danielle still believes that the apps and devices are useful in attracting people to fitness. “There’s a lot of power in technology. But technology is moving quicker than the capacity we have to learn to use it. We just need to involve the experts earlier in the development process,” she says.
Fitness expert Daniel Schrall of Doctor’s Wellness sees great value in apps and devices. “One of the biggest advantages technology has is making people more aware of their fitness levels. It makes it more enjoyable to engage in fitness activities when people have trackable data and specific goals.”
Like Danielle, Daniel says the apps and devices are just instruments in part of an overall fitness solution, and people should treat them that way. Younger generations enjoy the possibility technology creates, and baby boomers — the generation that hates aging and who can afford a smartwatch or a specialized fitness app — drive the market. Here are some of the most popular devices and apps:
The Fitbit tracks active minutes every day. Log food and use the scale feature to track weight and BMI. Fitbit also measures the quantity and quality of sleep.
Garmin Vivofit is slightly larger than the Fitbit Flex, but it includes a one-year battery, a display, and an inactivity monitor to notify when one has been sitting too long.
JayBird’s Reign is specifically formatted for athletes. Comprehensive logarithms show how to become more active. It provides a night-by-night record of how much sleep one requires. It also has a “Go Zone” alert when one’s lifestyle is in balance.
Smart watches come in three basic options. The smart phone peripheral doesn’t connect to a wireless network, but acts as a remote control for a phone. Sports watches include a GPS to help map runs, track heart rate and set a pace. Examples include the $349 Wellograph or the $400 Adidas Micoach Smart Run. Finally there’s the watch/phone, like the $249 Burg and the $349 Neptune Pine, with SIM cards and cellular connections.
Suunto Ambit3 provides the ultimate package for tracking sports and adventures. The GPS delivers accurate speed and distance, while the heart rate monitor allows one to train within an ideal zone. In addition, Ambit3 Peak and Ambit3 Sport come with specialized features for running, cycling, swimming and even orienteering. These watches connect to an online account to view the data recorded from training sessions, and there are even options to download apps that track more specific data onto the watch.
Beyond Fitness Trackers
Technologies also exist for people with specialized health needs. There’s the Quardio EKG sensor, Moxy muscle oxygen monitor, June sun radiation sensor to help avoid skin cancer, and the Lumo back monitor that checks the position of the upper back and neck.
Technogym offers the first Google Glass-controlled treadmill. Slip on the glasses and take a virtual jog in any of the international locations in the programming. The device also reacts to voice commands to speed up or stop exercising.
Six Pack Abs is a free app that includes nearly 20 core-strengthening exercises, performed by lifelike avatars in HD videos to ensure proper form and prevent injury. Select music playlists match workout intensity. Choose Connect to MyFitnessPal — a free online exercise and nutritional log for weight loss or health maintenance with an extensive database of food information — and workouts are automatically submitted. Upgrade to the full version for $4.99 to gain access to more than 50 abs exercises, six pre-installed workouts and the ability to create custom workouts.
Zombies, Run! 5K Trainer. Part interactive horror film, part personal trainer, this $1.99 app offers guided interval training while engaging participants in a video game in which only they can save humanity over the course of eight weeks. Stay motivated by achieving a win and saving the world!
CycleNav system is comprised of two parts: a unique navigation device that mounts on a bicycle handlebar, and a Bluetooth-enabled mobile app that helps riders reach their destinations. The CycleNav app gives audio prompts and directions just like a GPS, except it tracks ride time, speed and calories burned during each trip. Bike riding just got more fun, a lot easier and safer. The app is free and the Nav system device is sold separately.
Johnson & Johnson Official 7-minute workout. Great for travelers, this free app launched in January, has 36 exercises, 13 predesigned workouts and a custom workout feature to design a personalized routine. Users choose the length of rest intervals, the number of times they want to run through a particular circuit and tunes from their personal music library to further optimize the workout. With audio and visual instruction, a good workout is guaranteed anywhere there’s a floor, wall and chair.
The free Gym Pocket Guide app gives a day-by-day weight-training schedule to follow based on the program selected — fat loss, muscle building or bulking up. It comes with a workout library already loaded (a big plus if WiFi is unavailable) that gives detailed exercise descriptions and images.