The consumer market is currently under siege by an arsenal of fitness trackers, smart accessories, and wearable computers intent on helping you whip your body into peak physical condition.
Truth is, you’re every bit as capable at shedding pounds armed with a veggie-stocked fridge, a pair of trainers, and a jump rope as you are with a fancy heart-rate-tracking smartwatch and a pair of $300 shoes packed with sensors. But even if you keep it mostly old-school, adding a couple of digital investments to your regimen can help. They’ll show you where you’re making gains even when it doesn’t feel like you are, and they’ll help you stay motivated enough to resist the constant gravitational pull of pizza and Netflix.
Last week at CES in Las Vegas, I saw a lot of new health-tracking wearables and fitness-minded products. These are some new tools for 2015 that will help ensure your health and fitness success in the coming year.
A Smart Scale
If you have $150 to buy only one thing, get a connected scale. Recent research has found that weighing in at least once a week is key to keeping hard-earned pounds from creeping back. If you spend a little more to invest in a scale that wirelessly transmits your weigh-ins to your smartphone, that’s one less niggling task you’ve got to do each day. Even better is a scale that also measures your body composition. Why? At some point you’ll hit a plateau in your weight loss, and that can be disheartening. What you can’t see is that while your weight isn’t dropping, your body is still changing: Your fat percentage may be shrinking while your muscle mass is rising. Which is great! Or maybe you weigh half a pound more because you’re super hydrated. Also great! A wireless scale like Withings’ Smart Body Analyzer ($150) or the Qardio Base (available this spring, $150) are great options for making this distinction.
Tracking your daily food intake is also a must, and MyFitnessPal makes it a snap. The free app runs on multiple mobile platforms and has several features that make it a powerful tool. First, MyFitnessPal can share its data with (and collect data from) apps like FitBit, Strava, and Apple Health. So no matter which app is your main vessel for tracking calorie count, it’s armed with the most complete and accurate information possible. Which brings us to MyFitnessPal’s incredibly vast selection of foods you can log into your daily food diary. You can choose the exact brand and amount of bread, peanut butter, and jelly for the sandwich you just made, or the precise configuration for that Chipotle burrito bowl you inhaled (no judging).
If you have a favorite recipe you cook up, you can input that once and save it for quicker selecting in the future. It also remembers your most recent items, so if you’re on a grapefruit and steel-cut oats kick this week, you can add those with just a tap. Your daily intake is broken down into an easy-to-read pie chart of carbs, fats, and proteins that you can monitor to make sure you’re twisting all the knobs in the right directions. I find this feature really illuminating. For example, some foods I thought would be ideal for my low-fat dietary needs are actually very high in fats.
Withings’ products (like its smart scale) sync with MyFitnessPal, and Qardio anticipates integrating its scale with MyFitnessPal in the near future.
Some Sort of Fitness Tracker
You don’t need to meticulously track every step, lap, or burpee to get fit. But having some degree of activity tracker, whether it be your phone or a wearable, offers three main benefits.
First, it can monitor your intensity. If you don’t have hours to spend running or lifting weights, you can make sure you’re getting a quality, efficient workout. Second, by tracking your activities, you can build on what you’ve done in the past, and gain a sense of accomplishment. “Wow, I walked six miles today! I could barely huff up one flight of stairs a month ago!” It’s a powerful motivator. Third, many fitness trackers (or rather, their apps) offer some degree of community. If you need additional motivation, want to meet up with other people with similar goals as yourself, or if you have a competitive edge, digitally communing with others will help keep you on track.
Level 1: Smartphone tracking
To keep it simple, just use your phone. Almost every modern phone has an accelerometer inside that can count your steps, and aside from that, all you need is an app that syncs with MyFitnessPal—there are 60 to choose from. I’d recommend Runkeeper if you don’t know where to start. Available on iOS and Android, it has a robust user community, goal-setting features, and lets you track all kinds of different workouts.
Level 2: Workout tracking
A step up from that is Wahoo’s $100 Ticker X heart rate monitor and workout tracker. In conjunction with the company’s Wahooligan app (coming very soon), you can strap it across your chest and track not just heart rate, but the reps of each exercise in the 7 Minute Workout, which is useful if you don’t have time for long workouts. Or, if you hit the treadmill or stationary bike, it’ll track your workout for you, displaying stats like your heart rate in real-time over Bluetooth LE. And if you don’t have your phone in hand, you can sync and upload your activities later.
Wearing a heart rate monitor (HRM) is convenient because you strap it on and forget about it, and should you decide to upgrade to a more expensive Bluetooth-capable smartwatch or fitness tracker in the future, you can still use the HRM during workouts. If you don’t need fancy rep counting features, you can grab a Bluetooth HRM for under $100.
Level 3: Constant activity tracking
If you really want to nerd out, or you want constant motivation, go with a 24-hour activity tracker like the the Garmin Vivofit 2 ($130), the Fitbit Charge HR ($150), or the Withings Activité Pop ($150). The Vivofit 2 has visual and vibration alerts that remind you to get up and get moving throughout the day, in addition to general sleep and activity tracking and a superb battery life. If you want something more colorful, multi-colored and patterned straps will be available soon. The Fitbit Charge HR features 24-hour heart rate monitoring, which is useful for getting more exact calorie expenditures during the day and while working out. The Activité Pop is the best option if you want a tracker that doesn’t look like a fitness tracker. It tracks walks, runs, and sleep, and has an eight-month battery life.