Fitter Happier

Brian's Take on Tech

Bringing you info about technology, and how it impacts your life for better and worse.   -Brian K, Community Partnerships Supervisor


We are well into the new year and for many of us that New Year’s resolution to get fit has already fallen by the wayside. For those of you still trying to stick with it, good for you and maybe I can show you some tools that will help you in your efforts. Today we are going to look at three products I have looked at to aid you in your exercise / weight loss efforts.

The first two are tech devices that will help you track your fitness coming and goings. The third is an app that some of you may have seen before.

Body Media: Core

The first device is called the Body Media Core armband. The Core is a device that you strap to your upper arm to track your efforts throughout the day, and even the night. The Core is pretty cool if you are at all a geek. In addition to working as a pedometer it actually tracks your calorie output with sensors that measure the amount of sweat you produce as well as changes in the heat coming off your skin. The dashboard provides a ton of information but it requires some steps on your part. I bought the Core model which you have to sync to your computer to upload your stats and let it recharge (it does so very quickly). You also need to manually enter your caloric intake to get the best data.

BodyMedia dashboard ImageYou can also wear the Core to bed and it will analyze how much sleep you get. While this sounds cool it was one of the first features I stopped using and hits at the biggest drawback of the device. As I mentioned you wear the core on your upper arm and that can get old pretty quick. Body Media says you can wear the devices 20 hours a day but once I start winding down for the day it comes off. That’s not my biggest gripe, my biggest gripe is the subscription plan. Your device is useless unless you pay $6.95 per month or $59 per year for the pleasure of using their product. This was the only product that required a monthly fee for use of its basic services.

Overall I like the device and get use out of it but it won’t be a home run product until they find a less intrusive way for it to collect data, which is unlikely given the sensors need skin contact to function.  They also need to ditch the monthly / annual fee.  

Fit Bit: The One

FitbitThe Fitbit is a cool little device about the size of a flash drive that clips to your front pocket. Here is the manufacturer’s description: “During the day, it tracks your steps, distance, calories burned, and stairs climbed. Come nightfall, it measures your sleep cycle, helps you learn how to sleep better, and wakes you in the morning. The One motivates you to reach your goals by bringing greater fitness into your life – seamlessly, socially, 24 hours a day.” This is the device my wife has chosen for her fitness efforts. It has the benefit of being Bluetooth enabled so you can sync it without connecting it physically to any device. It is small and unobtrusive and it has a display built right in (The Core lacks this feature).

The down side is that you will not have the same amount of data to analyze after a sync and many of its results are based on estimates instead of hard data. On the plus side you don’t need to have a subscription to their service; in fact it is designed to integrate into other popular fitness programs like Map My Fitness, Spark People and My Fitness Pal.

Map My Fitness    

 The final product we will look at isn’t a device but a service, actually a number of services. Map My Fitness comes in many different flavors including; Map My Walk, Map My Run, Map My Hike, Map My Ride and so on and so forth. There is basically a product for every outdoor activity that takes you from point A to point B. The service requires use of a smart phone with GPS capability. The basic idea is that you turn on the program once you begin your walk, run or ride and the app will track your path, how far you traveled, how long it took and your elevation changes along the way. Once you have created a path you can use it over and over comparing your performance on each trip.

Mapping is the most obvious piece of this service but Map My Fitness also offers a number of other features. This includes calorie logging, journaling and general fitness logging. In addition there is a social media component that allows you to share your maps with friends and compare performance notes. The best part is that the basic service is absolutely free as long as you have a compatible phone.

The Upshot  

So which of these products works? Which one is the best? The reality is that it is really up to you and how you use technology to help meet your fitness goals. I prefer the Core to the Fitbit but my wife feels exactly the opposite. I like the depth of real data even if I don’t like the extra costs involved. She prefers the Fitbit because it is easy to use, allows you to check progress anytime you want and most of all because you don’t have to wear it. I would recommend Map My Fitness to anyone who spends time doing outdoor fitness and has a smartphone. It’s easy to use and collects a lot of handy information through something you are likely carrying with you anyway.

The real question is, do any of these products help you get fit? As someone who struggles with my fitness I can say honestly that they help but it will always come down to you. What they do offer is a lot of reinforcement, and that is great for me. The fact that you always know you have the BodyMedia Core on when you are wearing it serves is a reminder that you need to be active; it sort of acts like a string around the finger. The data you pull off the devices allows you to compare your progress from day to day so you know when you have been sloughing off. Finally all of these devices / services have a pronounced social media component. You don’t have to share your information with others but once you start sharing your achievements it becomes kind of a personal expectation that you have to keep it up so people won’t know you fell off the fitness wagon.

If you decide to try one of these devices let me know how it goes and good luck meeting your goals!    

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