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Using Technology for Fitness: A Review

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a gadget geek. I love a product that is cool and does neat things, especially if it gives me information I wouldn’t know otherwise. When it comes to health-related gadgets, I talked about some of the software last week, and now this week want to focus on some hardware.

I bet that back in the day, when digital pedometers came out, people got super excited about wearing a little device on their waistband to tell them how many steps they have taken in a day. It was, no doubt, a motivational tool that really worked well for those who love a good challenge. “I’m going to take X many more steps today than I did yesterday!” It encouraged movement … when it was worn.

Even something as simple as a pedometer has changed and been improved upon over time. Now there are some really cool technology tools that are helping people to get fit, lose weight, and learn more about their bodies.

Last fall I took note of the armbands worn by the contestants on the Biggest Loser show. I had watched every season of this series and never thought much of it until then. Someone made a comment about knowing their calorie burn up until that point, then noting how many more calories they needed to burn that day. I knew the band was a monitor of some sort, but beyond that I passed it off as a show requirement.

Then I researched it and remembered a comparison study done by my pal Leigh Peele of these armband devices. Once I put two and two together, I dug deeper into the functionality of products such as BodyMediaFIT (formerly GoWearFIT) and BodyBugg. I was at that point in my weight loss journey that I really wanted to get a good idea of my burn on a given day. It came down to math. I had done a good job of getting in the ballpark of where I needed and wanted to be, but I felt this device would take it to the next level of precision.

I settled on purchasing the base model of the BodyMediaFIT armband. It had the cool functionality, but I didn’t buy the even cooler bells and whistles with the more expensive models (Bluetooth-enabled, real-time calorie burn information). I bought the model that I had to download via a USB into my computer. That’s OK, it worked for me at the time.

I began wearing it last December, when for the most part I was wearing long-sleeved shirts. This doesn’t exactly have a small footprint, and would look decidedly out of place with your sexy little black dress. In the spring and summer, it did create an unsightly tan line, as I wore it for most of the day.

The device can be worn up to 23 hours a day and will monitor calorie burn, activity, sleep efficiency and more. It uses readings from humidity, skin temperature and an accelerometer for movement to determine burn to a higher degree of accuracy than other devices on the market. For $200 (plus a monthly subscription fee), it was worth it for me to get this personalized information.

Do you ‘need’ this device to lose weight? No, but it is pretty eye-opening to get the information on your personal calorie burn. Is it perfect? No, but it is closer and more personalized than using an algorithm from a chart. A friend of mine (who used the BodyBugg) and I had a discussion about our daily burn, and on an average day of being relatively sedentary, I found out that I burn on average 600 calories more than her for the same activity. No two burns are alike.

The subscription to their website offered a great nutrition tracker, and I found myself tracking regularly. I love seeing numbers and hitting targets, so this worked for me.

Admittedly, I got to the point that I no longer wanted to wear a bright silver armband with my tank top in the summer and found that more often than not I left the band at home, only putting it on for the gym. It lost the draw of seeing those numbers because it was less accurate.

There was something about not having something smacking me in the face with the reality of my movement that led me off track a bit. I had a great idea of my burn based on my history, but I used more intuitive eating.

I still have a little more to lose, and it’s time to hone in on that again. I went back to technology to help me out. I recently purchased the Fitbit device on the recommendation of a few folks. It’s a small clip-like device that can be attached to your underwear, waistband, bra or even thrown in your pocket. It has the accelerometer from the Nintendo Wii to determine step count.

Understandably it is not as accurate as the armband because it doesn’t factor in skin temperature, humidity, etc., but it’s close enough for government work. I already have an idea of what I burn on a day when I do certain activities. This will tell me in real time what my step count is, how many calories I’ve burned (based on activity, height, weight and gender), and how many miles I’ve traveled. To sync it to the website, which also has a great interface for logging activity and nutrition, you just have to be within 15 feet of the charging station when it is plugged into the computer. A wireless sync! Every once in a while it needs to go on the charger to recharge the battery, but I believe it’s good for about 7 days between charges. (I will do every three or so.)

For $100 (and no subscription fee), it’s worth it for me if it gives me motivating information and gets me back on track. The downside? It’s a small device – about the size of your thumb – so the risk of loss is greater. And it may be easier to forget where it is … until you find that it went through the laundry. (It won’t survive.)

I’ll report back after using the Fitbit for a while to give more thoughts on it. But for now, I think it’s pretty neat!

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[author_info]About the Author

 Lori Rypka is the Prime Parents Club Fitness Contributor, a mom of two wonderful kids first, a writer, wife, friend, personal trainer and marathon runner in training second. She enjoys helping others in their personal journeys toward living healthier lives. The biggest tool in her tool box: humor. Who says dieting can’t be fun? You can find Lori at, or on Twitter as @LoriRypka.




Image: Ambro

Lori Rypka has been certified as a personal trainer through the American Council on Exercise since April 2010, and enjoys helping friends find their healthy selves. Follow Lori on her blog at Fumbled Into Fitness.

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