By Dr. Mercola
Today there are literally hundreds of thousands of smart phone and iPad applications available for just about anything you can think of, and some of them can be extremely useful, allowing you to access vital health information at a moment's notice no matter where you are.
Other novel pieces of technology are also emerging that can help you to stay motivated, informed and connected with people around you, all of which can be essential in taking control of your health, including weight loss. In this sense, technology can really help you to leverage your ability to stay healthy and achieve your ideal weight.
Technology Really Does Support Healthy Weight Loss
Behavioral modification is often an important part of successful weight loss, and those that have greater contact with a health coach generally have greater weight loss in the first year. This is why the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends behavioral treatment for all obese adults.1
However, what is becoming clear is that such contact needn’t necessarily be in person. Rather, treatment via the telephone or Internet has emerged as a comparable alternative or treatment modality, capable of producing similar results.
And, in many ways, technological solutions are often more appealing to busy adults than scheduling face-to-face meetings. As Forbes recently reported:2
“Self-monitoring of diet and physical activity is associated with weight loss success and can be performed conveniently using handheld devices. Mobile devices allow real-time decision support by enabling users to check the caloric value of foods and activities and track energy balance in real time.
Studies of technology-supported weight loss interventions indicate that digital tools are more effective and acceptable to participants when they supplement rather than replace contact with human interventionists.”
Two recent studies yielded some promising results that suggest a permanent place for technology in healthy weight loss:
- Patients who could monitor their diet and exercise using PDAs (smart phones have largely replaced these) lost an average of nearly 9 pounds more than those receiving only standard-of-care group treatment3
- Patients in both a coach-led intervention group and those with access to a DVD of the coach-led sessions lost significantly more weight than a control group4
Simple Tech Devices Worth Trying
There are countless new fitness gadgets on the market that promise to help you lose weight and get healthy. Among them are a host of high-end devices that essentially act as pedometers, measuring your activity throughout the day to give you an idea of how active you actually are. In a recent article, the New York Times rated the least expensive Fitbit One, which clips onto a belt, and a simple, no frills pedometer as superior to the more expensive FuelBand (by Nike), Up (by Jawbone) and a wireless armband from BodyMedia FIT.5
To give a few more specifics:
- Fitbit: A small device that clips on your clothes and tracks your steps. It can also monitor how much sleep you get at night. The Fitbit can easily synch up with your computer or smart phone so you can easily track your data and progress.
- Jawbone UP: A high-tech bracelet that tracks your activity, sleep, food intake and mood to help you track your overall health.
- Nike FuelBand: Another bracelet that tracks calories burned in a day and whether or not you’re meeting your fitness goals. It comes with a mobile app to help you monitor your fitness.
- Basis: This wrist-watch-like device tracks your sleep patterns, blood flow, perspiration, workout intensity, steps taken, calories burned, resting heart rate and more, allowing you to create and track your health goals.
- Lark: Lark includes both nighttime and daytime wristbands with an app to track fitness statistics, food eaten, sleep, calories burned and more, helping you to make informed decisions about your health.
Add a Heart Rate Monitor to Your “Tech” Workout Gear
In addition to some form of pedometer, I’d add a heart rate monitor, which tracks your progress and gauges the intensity of the workout on your body, as another important tech gadget to pick up. This is incredibly important when engaging in exercises like high-intensity Peak Fitness, where you need to raise your heart rate up to your anaerobic threshold for 20 to 30 seconds, followed by a 90-second recovery period, in order to get the full benefits.
You will want to get very close to, if not exceed, your maximum heart rate (calculated as 220 minus your age) by the last interval. You can try and manually count it by palpating your pulse and using a watch, but this is not easy to do with heart rates above 125-175 beats per minute. When you are out of breath from exercising, it becomes even more difficult.
The bottom line... you will need a heart rate monitor device to measure your heart rate to help optimize your workout. It's unlikely you can accurately measure it manually (using your pulse and 'counting method') when it's above 150.
Two great options I discovered, and strongly recommend, are the digital SmartHealth and SmartSport heart rate monitors. They can provide you the flexibility to monitor and measure all you need, and come in the form of a very versatile wrist watch... SmartHealth offers accurate heart rate monitoring while SmartSport gives you several additional functions, such as a calorie-burn calculator and the option to store data from your last workout.
4 Fitness and Weight Loss Apps to Consider
Technology can be a strong factor in helping you take control of your health, but there are now some 40,000 health apps to choose from – and it’s a rapidly growing, market. It can take a serious time investment to determine which apps are actually helpful and provide accurate information, and which are merely a waste of your time.
Many of you know that I have a passion for technology in addition to health, so health apps, which combine the two, are invaluable to a “gadget geek” like me. I have scanned many thousands of articles and downloaded several hundred applications, and the app suggestions that follow are among those I consider to be quite valuable.
By far one of my favorite apps, this free app lets you track your activity and food/caloric intake using an activity log and food diary. The food calorie portion is one of the best pieces of software out there to record and keep track of your food macronutrients. I use this app nearly every day to record my food intake and help me keep track of my macronutrient ratios. It’s an incredibly easy way to monitor your food intake without a lot of fuss.
MyFitnessPal has an easy to use interface that allows you to access about 1 million food items in its database, plus you can also add your own foods and recipes at any time and access them from anywhere with an Internet connection. Once you enter new food nutritional information, it will be there for you the next time you need it.
I really love this app as it quickly and easily allows you to see the number of grams of carbs, fats and protein you're eating. I consider myself fairly sophisticated nutritionally, but I was really shocked when I found out what the actual numbers were. This is a very powerful tool and best of all it is free.
2. Fitness Builder
For keeping track of your workouts this is my favorite app. I don’t use MyFitnessPal to record my workouts, I use this app. There are loads of exercise applications on the net but Fitness Builder, in my experience, is the most comprehensive fitness database in the world. It contains the largest library of exercise images and videos, the most challenging workouts across all disciplines, access to a live personal trainer and a complete set of every fitness tool, and a calculator and tracking features are available. Most all of the apps I have are free, but this one costs $10 for the base version and it is worth every penny if you use it, as it helps you keep incredible records for your workouts.
3. Nike+ Running and RunKeeper
If you love running or jogging, these apps let you map out runs, monitor your distance and speed, and even track calories burned. It will even track your location as you run using GPS, and lets you share goals and run information with those on your social networks. RunKeeper also lets you keep and compare activity stats, set goals and offers customizable training plans and voice coaching.
4. Endomondo Sports Tracker
Another free app, this one is like having your very own personal trainer available at your fingertips. Along with the “usual” ability to track your heart rate, calories, speed, and distance during a workout, a built in GPS tracks your route on a map. Plus, when you enter your goals, an audio coach will give you feedback while you exercising to keep you motivated, and you can also share your workouts with friends and even track the workouts of your friends in real time.
10 More Useful Fitness Apps You Might Not Have Tried…
TechCrunch recently reviewed a host of health and fitness apps worth checking out.6 Among them:
Lift is unique in that it can help you to get in shape, live healthier, improve productivity... virtually any goal you want to achieve can be integrated with Lift. Not only does this app help you break down your goals into smaller, more achievable “micro habits,” it then allows you to simply track whether you’ve achieved them (and keeps track of it publically so you can receive encouragement from others).
This tech-based weight loss program takes information from Fitbit, wireless scales, Skype sessions and other sources then combines it with coaching from wellness experts to help you get in shape. This program is unique in that it combines the use of health-tracking devices with personal Skype video sessions with experts who can help you translate your habits into real weight loss results.
This combination of websites and apps allows you to track your outdoor activities, nutrition, fitness and more, as well as get real-time info on weather, safer routes, traffic and more that might impact your workouts. You can also compare your progress with that of friends and local fitness clubs.
This social wellness platform is prompting healthier workplaces by allowing employees to form teams and compete against one another to lose weight or get in shape. Cash or other prizes offered by their employers keep the experience engaging and fun.
When you take a picture of yourself with your smart phone, this app monitors your heart rate based on minute differences in the color of your face. Long-term tracking also monitors your resting heart rate.
6. Skimble Workout Trainer
This app offers hundreds of workouts, including both audio and visual guides, to help you get in shape with virtually any type of equipment or time allotment.
7. Pocket Yoga
An app that includes voice instruction and visual guides for yoga poses, to help you develop yoga skills in the comfort of your own home.
First you set goals, such as how many times you’ll go to the gym in a week, as well as set a monetary amount you’d be willing to pay if you don’t. If you reach your goals, you earn a cash reward. If you don’t, you “donate” your money to a community pot that pays others who reach their goals.
9. GAIN Fitness
An app of digital personal trainers to help you create personalized workout routines based on your fitness level, goals and available time.
Training routines and workouts used by bodybuilders are available through this free app, allowing you to simply expand your exercise program. You can even search the workouts by muscle group and available equipment.
Technology-Based Fitness is Likely Here to Stay
In 2011, for the first time ever, people in the United States spent more time on mobile apps than they did on the Internet.7 In fact, they spent about 10 percent more time on apps than they did on a Web browser. The Internet is being progressively relegated to a background infrastructure that allows people to access data through apps with an elegant user interface.
This is shockingly remarkable when you consider that mobile apps have only been around for several years, but it’s also indicative of a technology that’s likely here to stay. Exploring this market, and embracing a few of your favorite health and fitness apps is one of the most hands-on ways you can take control of your health. And most of them are free – or close to it.