10 tips for fitness gadgets to fight holiday indulgences
During the holidays, you'll likely gain at least one pound, according to a study that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine. While that doesn't sound like much, you probably won't lose that pound, either. As the years go by, those accumulated pounds become harder to shed. "This extra weight accumulates through the years and may be a major contributor to obesity later in life," the study says.
Not convinced? Just ask John Hennigan, also known as Johnny Nitro of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) fame. "It's way easier to keep weight off than to take it off," says the former wrestler, who has co-developed the Out of Your Mind Fitness training program. "Think about how much it takes to burn off a single Christmas cookie. Everyone who goes to the gym knows how much work they have put in, so why put it to waste in one weekend of gorging?"
Avoiding holiday weight gain, in theory, is as simple as setting realistic diet and exercise goals and sticking to them. But that's not so easy when, between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, you're perpetually teased by ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, pumpkin pie, eggnog, wine, cookies, cakes, you name it.
Fortunately, there's no shortage of affordable consumer tech to help: Activity trackers such as Fitbit; mobile apps for counting calories, such as MyFitnessPal; Nintendo Wii fitness games; heart-rate monitors, and Wi-Fi-enabled bathroom scales, such as the Withings Smart Body Analyzer, which sync your weight and other stats with diet and fitness apps.
To help you stay fit during the holidays, we asked ten tech-savvy health and fitness experts about the technology they use for diet and exercise—as well as their strategies for staying fit.
10 tips for picking health and fitness tech
1. Choose tech that best matches your goals.
"For technology to be effective, you need to start with strong, well-thought-out goals and determine your tactics to achieve them," says Michael Rucker, director of digital products at Club One fitness centers in the San Francisco Bay Area. "This might seem fairly straightforward, but I can't tell you how many indoor cyclists I've seen [who've] purchase a popular accelerometer, like a Fitbit or Jawbone UP, and then quickly become frustrated because, given their fitness affinity, they'd have been better off with a heart-rate monitor."
Fitness consultant and personal trainer Amie Hoff of FitKit.com recommends that you first decide which activity you like doing and want to track. Also, determine your top health priority, whether it's elevating your heart rate, losing weight, or toning your body. Finally, take into account where you would want to wear a device: Wrist, belt, or chest.
2. Do your homework.
Read reviews of activity trackers, heart-rate monitors and other gear before you buy, says Ted Vickey, senior consultant for technology at the American Council on Exercise. In addition to checking out professional reviews on tech sites, look at user reviews on Amazon.com, REI.com and other ecommerce sites.
3. Look for ease of use.
We all have enough excuses not to be physically active, Vickey says. An activity tracker or other tech device that's not easy to use gives us yet another reason to be inactive.
4. Check the retailer's return policy.
If you're planning on wearing, say, a Nike+ FuelBand every day, you should make sure you're going to love it. But you might not know how you feel about the device for a few weeks, maybe even a month. That's why it pays to check return policies.
For example, REI lets you return a product up to one year after purchase (except for items purchased from REI's online outlet store). Best Buy offers 45-day returns for Elite Plus members, but only 15 days for everyone else.
5. Lose things easily? Wear an activity tracker.
Many people like the Fitbit One tracker ($100). But the device, which clips to a belt or bra or slips into a pocket, can also end up in the washing machine—which can destroy it. Or you may lose it. (That said, when a friend lost his Fitbit, someone found it and notified the device maker, which in turn located the owner and arranged to have his Fitbit sent back to him.)
If either of those scenarios seem likely, you'd be better off with an activity tracker worn on your wrist. These include the Fitbit Flex ($100), Fitbit Force ($130), Jawbone UP ($130), or Nike+ FuelBand SE ($150).
6. Don't get too dazzled by tech.
"Most people go for top-of-the-line devices with lots of bells and whistles, only to get overwhelmed, not know how to set it up or understand how to read the results. And then they never use it," Hoff says. "I suggest people go for the basic device that meets their needs or one you can grow into. I also recommend borrowing a friend's device and trying it for a day or two."
7. Don't let tech get you into a rut.
"Frequently, I see boring fitness routines caused by reliance on technology," says Doug Piller, owner and lead trainer at CrossFit Go Time in San Diego. For example, you may walk the same 10,000 steps every day because your Fitbit tracks those steps.
"But you shouldn't get complacent in your fitness routine. I recommend switching up your routine constantly, rotating between different methods of strength-training and cardio. Get creative. Try a different way of burning calories: Swimming, hiking with your pet, CrossFit, sprint intervals, dancing with your favorite Wii game or doing hot yoga."
8. Don't let your device distract you.
"Your smartphone or tablet can be a wealth of fitness information while youre at the gym," says former wrestler Hennigan. "But it can also be distracting. I regularly see people swiping touchscreens, starting new playlists and answering texts mid-workout. No bueno. Even just ignoring or answering a call takes time and concentration away from what you're doing."
Hennigan does use his smartphone to play music while working out, but he usually puts it in airplane mode so he doesn't get any texts, tweets, or calls while he's training. "I often use my phone as an oversized timer," he adds. "This works well for fight training to simulate rounds, to time sections of your workout like dynamic warm-ups and stretching, or isometric exercises."
9. Get social.
Many activity trackers and diet/exercise apps include a social media component. For example, Fitbit's website and mobile apps lets you see how many steps your other Fitbit-owning friends have walked in a given week (provided they agree to share their data with you). Sharing your stats can make you more competitive as well as keep you accountable.
Also, the social media connect "creates a community," Hoff says. "People know there are others out there struggling just like them. They have a place to share their struggles and triumphs. Social media encourages success, offers support, and it's a great place to find tips, tricks and tools that others have found."
10. Get rewarded.
Some diet and fitness apps connect with fitness trackers and help you earn rewards for your activities. Some examples include EarnedIt, for perks and charitable donations; FitCause, which connects with Nike+ FuelBands and lets you help charities through fitness, and Gym-Pact, an Android and iOS apps that earn you money for exercising but costs you money if you slack off.
Favorite apps and gadgets
We also asked our health and fitness gurus for their recommended apps, activity trackers, and other consumer technologies.
Cynthia Phillips of ABSolute Body Symmetry gym in Atlanta, says free apps such as SparkPeople, Lose It! and MyFitnessPal are "a wonderful starting point for the novice fitness participant. These apps offer a wide array of information and are all socially interactive."
Brian Durbin, owner of Fitness Together in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, says Lose It! is great for clients to record their food intake. "It's easy to use, helps them understand what their diet currently consists of, and allows me to show them patterns they could change to improve their daily nutrition," he says.
The biggest selling point, though, is the capability to link nutritional reports to his email address. "This way, every morning I receive their nutritional data, whether they filled it out or not," Durbin says. "This constant contact helps me intervene early and consistently, making their progress much faster ... Talk about accountability! This application delivers."
Personally, Durbin uses iRunner, a free Android and iOS app. "Not only is it accurate, easy to use, and a fun way to track and report progress," he says, "but the creators did something I think is awesome. When you haven't used the app for a period of time, they send you a little positive motivation text message, telling you some benefit of getting exercise. It's just the stimulus you need to get refocused."
Michael Rucker, director of digital products at Club One in San Francisco, uses a Tanita Ironman scale. "I like the Tanita scales compared to others because they have a subset of athletic algorithms to determine body fat percentage," he says. "General body fat calculations aren't kind to me—I'm a tall Clydesdale athlete—but the Tanita has a setting for folks with an athletic build, and the results are reliable."
Doug Piller, owner and lead trainer at CrossFit Go Time in San Diego, is a big fan of the Polar heart rate monitors. "The Polar factors in strenuous forms of exercise when tracking heart rate, distance and calorie burn," he says. For simple walking, hiking and jogging, on the other hand, Piller prefers a Fitbit "for its simple design and lightweight wearability."
Claire Pearson, a corporate and individual weight loss trainer in Atlanta, has a few recommendations. "CalorieKing is an easy app to use that helps you look up common restaurant foods," she says. "MyFitnessPal is the app I use for managing food diaries and weight, because I like the graphs it shows you. MapMyRun is another great app for tracking fitness goals."
Philadelphia-based personal trainer Joe Pepe uses th FatSecret Calorie Counter app (available for Android and iOS) to count calories consumed and the Nike+ FuelBand to count calories burned. "I love the band because you can track your progress," he says. "Each day, I try to beat the amount of steps I took the day before."
Amie Hoff, a New York-based fitness consultant and personal trainer, says BodyMedia makes "the most accurate, 'full service' fitness tracking device. The device is "pretty clunky," she admits, and there's a monthly subscription - the Online Activity Manager is $7/month. "But this is the best device of its kind I've seen so far," Hoff says. "It also partners with the MyFitnessPal app to track your food."
Since music motivates Michelle Pearl, a Sunnyvale, California-based fitness expert who has lost more than 100 pounds, to "pump myself up and push myself to the next level," her latest "favorite toy" is a set of Bluetooth-enabled ear buds, BlueBuds X by JayBird ($170). "They have specially designed earpieces that dont allow the buds to pop out," Pearl says. "I just put the ear buds in and leave my music source someplace close. Then I can do whatever I want, such as cardio intervals or strength training."