One of the great benefits of consumer tech is that no piece of data is too small to be recorded.
One of the big annoyances of consumer tech is that no piece of data is too small to be recorded.
So it is with exercise and nutrition-related devices and apps. They can help you pursue a healthy lifestyle. But they also might make you feel like a robot.
They come in two forms: devices that you wear to track your activity, and apps that take data recorded from those devices and information you enter manually to record and analyze your exercise and diet.
The Fitbit is one of the best known examples of an activity tracking device and one that I use personally. It comes in several models, including basic and high-end pinkysized trackers, clipped to your belt or tucked in a pocket, to a wristband model you wear all the time.
I find wristbands dorky and opted for the Fitbit One tracker. At $99, it records each day how many steps I take, how many flights of stairs I climb and by attaching to a special
sleep wristband at night, how much and the quality of sleep I'm getting.
Is it accurate? Comparing what it tells me to my anecdotal experience of each day, I'd say yes. Its sensors give me a running count on its small digital screen and when in range sync wirelessly with my iPhone and laptop to send data to Fitbit's servers to give me a comprehensive tally, including past history, on a personalized website.
So for example, on Aug. 16, I walked 8,062 steps (or four miles!), climbed the equivalent of 29 floors, and slept for six hours and 33 minutes.
The following day, Saturday, I was a slug, with 2,096 steps and a lazy three floors ascended. I was paying for a fun Friday night.
The idea, and not a bad one, is that by having an ongoing count of your activity during the day, you'll be inspired to move around more, eschew elevators instead of stairs and get to bed on time.
The Fitbit website gives you a daily goal, which you can modify, of steps, and will award you virtual badges for various milestones, like your first day achieving 5,000 steps. It works pretty well.
By about mid-afternoon, if I feel I'm behind on my daily goal, I get off my ass and move around. You'd be surprised what even a walk around the block accomplishes. The Fitbit can be nag but it's nagging those of us confined in offices need.
It has weaknesses. It only works if you remember to wear it. It will not record cycling, swimming or workouts at the gym. And while small is beautiful, it's easily lost. (The Fitbit wristband model, known as the Flex, is less likely to be lost, as long as you don't mind announcing to the world that you're a data-hungry jock.)
There are other activity trackers on the market and some smartphones, notably Samsung's steroidal Galaxy S4, include built-in pedometers that take advantage of the fact that many people have their phones with them around the clock. With apps like the excellent Runtastic, smartphones will also record activities like cycling.
Tracking exercise during the day is easy, but diet is another matter. Some months back an app called My Fitness Pal went viral through my social circle.
Available on a broad range of platforms, it's an awesome app. Based on your height and weight, it will give you a daily caloric goal. (As a nice side feature, it syncs with Fitbit's data to take your activity into account.)
You enter into the app what you eat during the day and My Fitness Pal spits out a running tally of calories and detailed nutrition information for carbs, fat, protein, sodium and sugar.
Most items you enter can be quickly matched to its user-built database of different kinds of food and meals, and when used with a smartphone can scan bar codes on food packages to give you an instant readout of what you're consuming.
If you try it, you will be fanatical and empowered and you'll know what you're eating down to the gram. But then one day, after about a month of rigorous scanning, entering data and analyzing readouts, you'll realize my Lord, this is a lot of work for basically eating the way Mom told you to.
Moderation in all things, said the Greeks and moms everywhere, and that truism applies to health and fitness apps, too.
For more information, visit www.fitbit.com/one, www.runtastic.com or www.myfitnesspal.com.
Barry Link is the editor of the Vancouver Courier.
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