|Body Media wristband, (Supplied)
Looking to get fit? There's an app for that—and increasingly, a smart gadget to go with it.
Fitness-tracking wristbands and monitors were a standout item at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this year, where companies showed off their new advancements in this growing area of technology. These devices no longer simply track the number of steps you've taken or measure your heartbeat. Now they can tell you how many reps of an exercise you should do, remind you when it's time to get up from your desk, or wake you up at the optimal time in your sleep cycle.
Adam Stewart isn't a fitness nut, but after receiving a Nike+ FuelBand ($149) for Christmas late last year, he's regularly measuring his activity and tracking his progress. The Toronto resident said that wearing the band helps him stay motivated by adding an element of competition to his activity.
"I set daily goals and wear the FuelBand everyday to remind myself to stay active and to track my progress," Stewart said. "I like that I can set longer term challenges to stay motivated from week to week."
Developers believe that competitive aspect can really help people using their devices stay on track and reach fitness goals. The creators of Amiigo, a fitness bracelet ($199) that's raised more than $400,000 in funding on Indiegogo, integrated a competitive element into the community for their device, which uses a wristband and a shoe clip to track your movements and match them with their database of specific exercises.
"It's really hard for most people - except really high level athletes- to push themselves to the limit every time they exercise," said Amiigo co-founder Dave Scott. With that in mind, Amiigo's online community will allow users to not only track their own progress and connect with friends but also to set up community challenges where users compete on measurements like number of reps or running speed. "All of those different things would really help somebody take it to the next level."
There's a wealth of research on fitness and weight loss that supports the way their device is designed, Scott said. Studies have shown that exercising with a partner increases both motivation and output, for example. And Scott pointed to the popularity of gamification and existing fitness apps as another plus for their device.
Research has also shown that self monitoring is a key factor in weight loss. A study published late last year in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that overweight and obese adults using a personal digital assistant to track activity and nutrition information, along with phone coaching, lost an average of more than eight pounds more than those not using the PDAs. The results indicate that people using other mechanisms to log their own information, such as a smartphone app or a monitoring device, and receiving real-time feedback as a result should also be able to improve their results, the researchers wrote.
Providing that feedback is a key feature of the newest fitness-monitoring devices. The redesigned Jawbone Up ($117) wristband can be set to vibrate at regular intervals during the day, reminding you to get up from your desk and move around. FitBit's Flex ($99.95) wristband has lights that illuminate every time you reach 20 percent of the goals you set on its website, such as steps taken each day. Lululemon Athletica’s All Sport Bra *Heart Rate Monitor ($64) has the heart rate monitor built right into it that you can check while working out. And the FuelBand has 20 LED lights that go from red to yellow and then green during the day as you progress towards your personal activity goal.
Nike's FuelBand also links with the LoseIt! app, available free for iOS and Android smartphones, which allows users to track their diet as well as their activity. Activity logged with your FuelBand is entered into your LoseIt! account, where you can also track your diet. The app will remind you if you forget to log in a meal, helping users to stay consistent with entering their information—providing a high-tech version of the food-intake diaries health experts have promoted for years.
Other devices also link up with computer or smartphone applications in order to allow users to access their data, enter information the device can't track, and connect with a community of users who can provide accountability and motivation. BodyMedia's armband (core and display, $119 USD) recently announced a partnership with the popular diet- and activity-tracking website SparkPeople, and the device's measurement of your calories burned during the day can be synched to your profile on the site.
"We continually research options and field consumer feedback for frequent requests. Integrating with SparkPeople was one of our top requests, so we’re thrilled that we were able to partner to deliver this to our consumers," said Gwen Smith, BodyMedia's marketing manager.
What are the drawbacks? You do have to wear the devices all the time to get consistent information, which may be a turnoff for some users. Companies are trying to make that more appealing by releasing gadgets that give a nod to style as well as function—for example, BodyMedia's sensor has interchangeable faceplates so you can match the armband with your outfit or style, and Jawbone's Up wristband comes in eight different colours.
And like any gadget, it only works as long as you keep using it. Dr. Anne Thorndike, a researcher at Harvard Medical School, studied how using a FitBit device affected activity level among medical residents. She couldn't comment for this article because her research is currently under review for publication, but she told Wired in January that one of the challenges she encountered in her study was that the initial novelty of the device wore off for some users. Whether your methods are high-tech or low-fi, the truth remains that when it comes to getting fit, consistency is key.