BY FRANK BOZZO
Let’s face it, It doesn’t take much more than a pair of eyes to notice that life in the modern world is having a negative impact on our health. Many of us sit behind a desk for 40 hours a week, eat nutritionally bankrupt convenience foods in outrageous quantities and spend our free time watching TV and browsing the web for adorable pictures of cats, yet we cannot comprehend why good health seems to be alluding us. Here are some technological tools that we can use to get a handle on our health and combat the obesity epidemic.
Wearable Activity Trackers
The best activity trackers are those that work passively, without any interaction on the user’s part, and for this reason, we recommend bracelet style trackers above those that clip to your clothing. Case in point, one of my friends owns a footstep counter that he has to manually put on every morning, and while he and I live similarly active lives, I consistently beat his weekly step count because he inevitably forgets to wear his at least a couple of times per week, whereas my bracelet style tracker never leaves my wrist, I sleep with it and wear it in the pool and shower.
While there are several options available that fit the bill, two of the most widely used devices are the Fitbit Flex and the Jawbone UP24. Both devices are fairly similar, they track footsteps, calories burned and sleep quality and they both break down that information into useful metrics and graphs. Here’s a breakdown of what sets each device apart:
Fitbit Flex – $99.99 (from Fitbit)
*Syncs automatically in the background (via a Bluetooth dongle on your computer and/or built in Bluetooth functionality on the iPhone and select Android devices)
*Larger userbase, better chance that some of your friends use a Fitbit (which opens up the door for some friendly step-count competition)
*Display allows you to see approximately how far through your selected goal you currently are
*Comfortable bracelet design with several swapable band colors available
*Waterproof (I wear mine while swimming 3x a week)
*The band has a tendency to crack from removing and reinserting the actual fitbit unit
*Only syncs with a handful of Android devices (Compatibility list here)
*The mobile app is fairly simple and lacks a few features that are available online.
Jawbone UP24 – $149.00 (from Jawbone)
*Mobile app is excellent, undoubtedly better than the current iteration of the Fitbit mobile app
*Wireless Background syncing (with recently added Android support) and manual syncing via your phone’s headphone jack
*Subjectively, many feel that the UP is a more stylish device that looks more like a bracelet and is slimmer than the Fitbit Flex
*There have been some anecdotal reports of syncing issues
*Band color is not changeable
*Somewhat limited Android support (Compatibility list here)
Bottom Line: Buy the device that fits your fashion sense and budget. Other trackers to keep an eye on are the Nike+ FuelBand and the Withings Pulse O2. Personally, I own the Flex and have been very happy with it, especially since it syncs with my Fitbit Aria smart scale. Speaking of that…
While it is true that weight is just a number, taking regular measurements are a great way to gauge progress and stay motivated.
Aria Smart Scale – $129.95 (from Fitbit)
When my wife bought me the Fitbit Aria smart scale for our last anniversary, I received a plethora of comments to the effect of, “That’s awesome…. but I bet she wouldn’t have been too happy if you bought her a scale, lol.” Outdated gender stereotypes aside, this scale is fantastic and any gift that helps your loved one to improve their health is a sign of true affection.
So, what makes this scale so smart? The Aria syncs to your WiFi network and updates your weight and body fat percentage to the Fitbit dashboard, which, if you have another Fitbit product, you are already using. It can also sync to popular food tracking apps like MyFitnessPal. The Aria can automatically recognize up to 8 different users and track their weights, uploading the measurements to the correct accounts, the user needs to do nothing more than step on the scale with barefeet (necessary to measure body fat). Visually, the Aria is gorgeous, with a sleek minimalist design that looks great in any bathroom.
If the Aria isn’t for you, check out the Withing Smart Body Analyzer.
Diet is arguably the most critical single factor contributing to a person’s overall health and well-being. Much as carefully tracking your spending can, in and of itself, help to avoid making unnecessary, high cost purchases, the careful tracking of your caloric intake can help to avoid binging on high calorie, low nutrition foods.
MyFitnessPal – Free (Available on most mobile platforms)
Having tried most food trackers currently available, I can say with a fair degree of confidence that MyFitnessPal is the most complete and comprehensive option available. MFP has a very large database of foods, making it possible to quickly input your meals with a high level of accuracy. You can quickly scan in premade foods via their barcodes, create and save your own frequently eaten meals and even manually set your macro nutrient goals (Protein, Fat and Carbs). In addition, MFP syncs with a ton of other fitness apps, including most of the popular activity trackers and smart scales.
If MyFitnessPal is not for you, check out Noom.
While a wearable tracker like the Fitbit Flex or the Jawbone UP24 are fantastic for tracking general activity, they are not ideal for keeping track of your progress while engaging in exercise activities like running, biking, hiking and the like.
Runtastic – Free for basic version, $4.99 for Pro (Available on all major mobile platforms)
Runtastic is capable of tracking a host of physical activities and providing useful feedback. Runtastic maps your activity, provides a breakdown of your pace, allows you to easily challenge yourself or others using the app. Runtastic can also sync with your music library, so that you can listen to your workout playlist while still receiving informative and encouraging prompts from the app in the form of a coach that speaks to you through your headphones based on your personal preferences. You can even set a Powersong that the app will play when you need a boost. Overall the free version of the app provides some excellent features, but I think the Pro version is well worth the money.
While buying a couple of products and downloading some apps is not going to automatically transform you from Chris Farley to Channing Tatum, accurately tracking your activity level and progress might be just what you need to get off the couch and start improving your life. Check out this awesome article for 7 ways to sneak exercise into your busy schedule.