In the spirit of the 2012 London Olympics, Steve Dinneen brings us up to speed on the gadgets that can make us fitter, faster, leaner and keener. Take a look and see if it’s for you.
Keeping fit can be difficult if you travel regularly. The further you go, the less you tend to move, which is great for your air miles but not for your blood pressure. Finding time to squeeze in a workout can be difficult, especially when you’re battling jet lag and deadlines.
But technology can help. A new generation of portable keep-fit gadgets can travel with you, reminding you to move if you’ve been sitting still for too long, to drink more fluids, eat more greens, wake up, go to sleep, speed up or slow down. With the right devices in your arsenal, you can leave all the thinking to a machine, while you focus on the altogether trickier business of doing the exercise. And best of all, there is no excuse for slacking off when you’re on a business trip – these gadgets will all fit neatly in your case.
Motivation is a key factor when it comes to staying in shape. As Ulisses, head personal trainer at the Reebok Sports Club at London’s Canary Wharf, warns: “The single biggest reason for quitting exercise is boredom.” Gadgets that give you a clear picture of how your body is responding to exercise will help to maintain your interest in keeping fit. Research has shown that micromanaging your active life is far more effective than setting unrealistic or arbitrary goals.
Scientists at the University of Hertfordshire found that people with a loosely defined goal – a new year’s resolution to quit smoking, say – were 78% more likely to fail. Those who planned a series of smaller goals, kept a diary and involved their friends had a 50% chance of success. Mobile apps are perfect for achieving these microgoals. You can post your running times on Twitter, compare your calorie intake with others, or monitor your heart rate.
“Some of the data you can take from these gadgets is really detailed stuff, probably a bit too advanced for most people, but if it keeps you coming back, it’s got to be a good thing,” Ulisses says.
Running apps can be enough to convince you to get out and race against your best times. People are competitive, whether it is with each other or themselves.
“The lifestyle apps that help you to count calories work for the same reason – they get you interested in how much you’re eating and make you want to improve. Of course, you can’t rely completely on these things – everyone has different fat burning levels. For a high-level, personalised workout, you still can’t beat a personal trainer, but most people want to work up to that – these gadgets can help.”
Motorola Moto ACTV
Despite being made by Motorola, you can use this neat gadget without having to invest in one of its
smartphones. The Android-based device works out how many steps you have taken and how many calories you have burnt each day, and uses the information to suggest ways to improve your fitness regime. Better still, you can compare how you have done with friends, giving you that extra bit of motivation. It is designed to fit into a wrist strap and you can even route your calls through it if you are using its MP3 player function. (The phone-routing function on the Motoactv is compatible with all Android handsets.)
Fitbit Ultra Wireless Tracker
The Fitbit may have a daft name, but it is a clever bit of kit. Designed as more of a lifestyle gadget than a hardcore keep-fit device, it will keep track of the number of steps you take, the calories you burn and the distance you travel, even knowing if you have gone up stairs or taken the lift. The theory goes that if you can see evidence of the benefits of small lifestyle changes such as taking the stairs at work, you’re more likely to stick with them. But for those who are more serious, you can also upload your stats wirelessly to your computer and share them online with friends, to help generate a bit of healthy competition. An additional sleep tracker function allows you to work out how deeply you sleep and how many times you wake up in the night.
Swimovate Pool-Mate Pro
This watch-based fitness device will go where its rivals fear to – underwater. It will calculate not
only basic information such as the number of laps you do, but also the number of strokes, the speed you are moving at, the distance you have covered and changes in your efficiency. The information can be easily transferred to your computer via a USB dock, where you can use the software included to log your times against your previous best, and even create charts showing how much you have improved (or not). If you are one of those people who pester your friends to sponsor your sporting endeavours, the Pool-Mate will also work out how far you have swum in a month or year, so at least you’ll have proof.
Wi-Fi Bathroom Scales
So you have the gadgets to help you lose the weight – but how do you check they’re working? These scales will calculate not only your weight, but also your BMI (body mass index) and fat mass. Next, they will beam the information to your PC or iPhone via Wi-Fi. The free app accompanying the scales will then chart your weight as you continue to upload your results, allowing you to build a picture of how effective different exercise regimes are – and giving you another reason to skip that extra serving at lunch. Another bonus is that the lightweight and surprisingly attractive device is thin enough to go in your suitcase, so there is no excuse for letting your diet slip when you are away. firebox.com
Adidas F50 Adizero Football Boots
MiCoach Speed Cell
Team sports are a great way to keep fit, but crunching hard data afterwards can be difficult. Unless, that is, you have microchips in your boots. Adidas’s MiCoach compatible boots have a slot inside the shoe to click the Speed Cell into, which automatically records a host of information, including average speed, top speed, number of steps and even your stride rate. After playing a match, the MiCoach chip will wirelessly transmit your data to your PC or phone, allowing you to see exactly how much harder than everyone else you were working throughout the big game.
Tanita BC-1000 Body Composition Analyser
Tanita D-1000 Remote Display
Garmin Forerunner 610 GPS Sportswatch
Weighing scales without a display may sound about as useful as a chocolate iPhone, but that is exactly what you get with the Tanita BC-1000. There is reason behind the madness, though – the information the device gives you is far more complex than your average bathroom-dwelling scales and you wouldn’t want to be crawling on the floor to look at the results. The BC-1000 instead requires either a Garmin Sportswatch or a Tanita Remote Display (both sold separately), to which it can wirelessly beam a detailed analysis of your body composition. The scales use something called Bioelectric Impedance Analysis to work out your body fat, body water, basal metabolic rate, metabolic age, bone mass, muscle mass and physique rating. The incredibly detailed information is then synced to your external device – great for serious athletes. The Garmin Sportswatch can work independently to show you your pace, GPS position, heart rate and number of calories burned, and also has a nifty feature that will guide you back to your starting point, should you decide to do a bit of exploring on your run.
Withings Blood Pressure Monitor
If you are worried about your health, this ultra-portable blood pressure monitor can help to give you piece of mind – or at least convince you to take a trip to the GP. Like any gadget of worth, the monitor comes with an iPhone app that will boot up automatically when connected. The measurement takes a few seconds and will give you an accurate reading of your systolic blood pressure (during heartbeats), diastolic blood pressure (between heartbeats) and pulse. If you’re trying to improve your overall health, you will also be able to store the results and see your progress over weeks and months.
Want to run faster? How about if a horde of the shuffling undead were bearing down on you? That’s the premise of this app. As you start to jog you will hear a series of increasingly frantic radio messages through your headphones, interspersed with your running playlist. As your run progresses, the zombie groans will grow louder, forcing you to up your pace to escape them. If you hit targets, you will be able to collect “items”, opening up more in-game content. There are 30 missions, each developing the apocalyptic storyline.
This discreet wristband packs in some impressive technology. It has a vibrating alarm to remind you to get up and have a stretch if you have been sitting hunched at your desk or on a plane for too long, which can help to prevent back pain, and it also works out the best time to wake you judging by how deeply you are sleeping, easing you awake with a vibration rather than an alarm. What’s more, it links with an app that allows you to enter a food diary, building up a picture of your lifestyle and suggesting improvements. To set it up, plug it into your iPhone headphone jack with the cable provided – no other platforms are currently supported – and follow the in-app instructions. eu.jawbone.com
This handy device is a blessing for anyone seriously interested in cycling. The large-screened unit
(3.1in x 5.1in x 6.9in) attaches to your bike stem or handlebar and provides a real-time display of your speed, distance travelled, altitude climbed and rate of incline, cadence (pedalling rate), heart rate and the ambient temperature. To switch between readings you simply press the left or right side of the screen to scroll through, making it easy to control, even at high speeds. The device will also remind you to stop occasionally to load up on fluids. You can download the information to your PC or Mac to compare your performances.
Bodyclock Advanced 200
Getting a good night’s sleep – and a good start to the day – is an important part of staying healthy. The Bodyclock Advanced begins to emit a dull light up to one and a half hours before your allotted waking time, slowly getting brighter, simulating a sunrise. Lumie claims the body slowly stops producing the sleep hormone melatonin as the light gets brighter, meaning you wake feeling more refreshed. It also has a birdsong alarm, which is a more pleasant way to wake than the sound of an annoying DJ on the radio. If you have trouble sleeping, it also has a “white-noise” soundtrack that helps to block out sound that can disturb your sleep.
$2 (iPhone only )
This running app uses GPS to record your pace, distance and route, allowing you to race against your best times. To check if you’re on track to beat your record, you can tap the screen to see where you are in relation to your last attempt. It is compatible with social networks and will send mid-run “cheers” from anyone who “likes” your updates.
MyFitnessPal’s calorie counter app draws from a database of more than a million foods to keep an accurate record of what you’re consuming. It will remember your favourite items and comes with a free barcode scanner to add new ones. It will also take into account any exercise you are doing, and assess your calorie intake against any weight loss goals you have.
If you are looking to tone up, this is an excellent source of yoga techniques, featuring a comprehensive list of exercises with the ability to “favourite” or “share” individual moves. The app complements the My Pilates Guru book. The interface is slick and clear enough to view from a distance – great for when you’re straining to perfect your downward-facing dog.
If the gym is your natural habitat, try FitSync. It suggests free workouts or lets you tailor your own, sends reminders of your day’s regime and records your progress. Once set up, the app works as a digital gym buddy, keeping you focused – and it’s far less likely to cancel your session at the last minute with a hangover, than one of your actual friends.
All available from Android Market and the Apple App store.