January 01, 2017

Technology that Can Help your Health

Cheers to your new year, may it be filled with good health and good sense. While the technology to help you with good sense may seem murky, there are ample technological tools to assist you with good health.

 

Multi-Use Fitness Trackers

Activity Trackers are a great tool for finding your fitness "sweet spot," that ideal training pace that lets you know you are getting something out of your workout without fear of overexertion. To get the most out of the heart rate monitoring portion of your fitness tracker, you need to start by identifying your max heart rate. This is more than just the "220-minus-your-age" formula, the best way to identify it is to use a heart rate monitor and do an activity with your all-out effort. The highest number your monitor records is likely going to be a better benchmark for your target heart rate. After you know your max effort, figure out what your heart rate is when you do an easy workout. You should find your heart rate during your easy workout is about 65 to 70 percent of your max heart rate.

From my personal experience, I started a fitness program with a trainer in which I wore a tracker made by BodyMedia, a company acquired by Jawbone in 2014. The trainer had access to review the metrics from my tracker every time I uploaded the data. We would meet weekly to review the results of my progress, and throughout the week the trainer would comment on the metrics to offer guidance and encouragement. It was a successful program for me and has made me a firm believer in the value of this fitness tool when properly utilized.

Fitbit Lineup

Fitbit offers a host of wireless-enabled wearable activity trackers that measure data such as the number of steps walked, heart rate, elevation climbed, sleep quality and more. Their devices came in all shapes and sizes, with variable utility depending on what you are looking for. All of the devices can be synchronized to your computer and select smartphones via Bluetooth with the Fitbit app, allowing you to monitor your metrics for trends, set goals, earn badges recognizing your accomplishments and compare to your friends who use Fitbit products. The app even allows you to track your food intake to help guide your choices during the day. Below is a breakdown of some of the all-stars from this line-up.

Let's start with the Fitbit One ($99.99, Fitbit.com), an activity and sleep tracker that clips to your pocket, belt, or bra. It tracks steps, distance, calories burned, and the number of floors you climbed. The One is rain, splash and sweat proof, although it does not purport to be water resistant. It can monitor your sleep, taking note of the actual time you fall asleep, how many times you wake up, and the efficiency of your sleep cycle. It features a silent alarm you can set to gently vibrate to wake you up without disturbing your partner in the morning.

The Fitbit Flex 2 ($99.95, Fitbit.com) is the second generation of this model, as the name implies. The core of this wearable is a removable tracker that can fit into a flexible band, bangle bracelet, or pendant necklace. The flexible band is how it is most commonly worn. The Flex 2 is water resistant up to 50 meters, and can be used to track water sports like swimming and surfing. You can program a movement reminder to encourage you to break up long periods of sitting. The Flex 2 will need to be recharged about every three to five days depending on how heavily it is used. On the downside, the Flex 2 does not measure floors climbed or heart rate, features that you can find in a lot of similarly priced models. The Fitbit Alta ($129.95, Fitbit.com) is a step up from the Flex 2, adding features like Caller ID and text notifications to the interface of the device.

The Fitbit Charge 2 ($149.95, Fitbit.com) adds heart rate monitoring, a feature that is very useful while exercising if you have any medical conditions to consider. The Charge 2 has the same movement reminder, sending a prompt to encourage you to take 250 steps every hour. There is a connected GPS feature that lets you see real-time run statistics like pace and distance on your wrist. You can also get a map of your route post-workout. In the app, you can get your cardio fitness score, giving you a better understanding of your fitness level, along with suggestions for how you can improve your fitness over time. It offers customizable watch faces to suit your mood, along with call, text, and calendar alerts.

The Fitbit Surge ($249.95, Fitbit.com) is at the top of Fitbit's lineup, in terms of pricing and features. This is a GPS-enabled, full-feature training device. All these features require a larger device, taking up more real estate on your wrist. It is purported to be water-resistant, though Fitbit advises you not to wear it in the pool. With the Surge, you can control music playing on your phone.

Samsung

The Samsung Gear Fit2 ($129, Amazon.com) is a GPS-enabled sport band similar to the Fitbit Charge 2. With the Fit2 you can track your step count, heart rate, sleep quality and more. You can receive and respond to notifications, calls and texts right on your wrist. The Gear Fit2 functions more like a Smartwatch than the Charge 2, with a larger touchscreen-enabled display. It has a better curve design, making it more comfortable on your wrist than the Charge 2. The biggest drawback to the Gear Fit2 is its compatibility -- it is limited to Android smartphones. However, if you already use an Android phone, this device is a great option.

Microsoft

The Microsoft Band 2 ($224.99, Amazon.com) is packed with 10 sensors including an optical heart rate, three-axis accelerometer, gyrometer, GPS, ambient light sensor, skin temperature sensor, UV sensor, capacitive sensor, a galvanic skin response sensor and barometer. It is also equipped with a microphone to work with Cortana, Microsoft's digital personal assistant (like Siri for iOS). The UV sensor allows you to measure how much UV exposure you are getting. You can also set alerts to remind you to reapply sunscreen or detect exposure and recommend when to get out of the sun.

Health Apps

In addition to fitness trackers and their corresponding apps, there are several health-related apps worth checking out. Here is a round-up of three to consider:

Round Health – Medicine reminder and pill tracker

Round Health is a free medication reminder app that is designed to help users remember to take their pills. You can schedule the reminders for daily, weekly, monthly or specific days of the month depending on your needs. Unfortunately, if you have a pill that needs to be taken multiple times per day, you have to set up the reminders individually. Also, the app is only available on Apple products.

ShopWell – Healthy Diet & Grocery Food Scanner

Shopwell is a free app that allows you to set specific nutrition goals and features a barcode scanner that will tell you if the food is a good match for your settings. It is useful for anyone managing diabetes, high blood pressure or gluten intolerance. The app will make suggestions of foods that are better for you based on your nutrition goals. It is available for iOS and Android devices.

Lose It and Snap It

Lose It! is a free calorie-counting app for Adroid and iOS devices that can help you manage your caloric intake throughout the day, acting as a food journal and exercise tracker. The company added an interesting feature, Snap it, which purports to calculate the number of calories in your meal simply by taking a picture of it. It is worth noting that Snap It! does not recognize sauces or oils, so you will have to enter that information manually. The app isn't always accurate either, but if it gives you some pause or consideration before digging in, then that is of some use. To try the Snap It feature, open the Lose It! app and navigate to the food log tab. Tap the camera next to the meal or snack that you would like to log.

Healthy Tech Tips

"Early to bed and early to rise will make you healthy, wealthy and wise." Here are a few healthy tech tips to help make 2017 your best year yet:

Try something new with Groupon

If you are thinking of trying something new, why not save money on it by scouring the daily deals site for discounts? You can find introductory deals from local businesses to let you try everything from Aerial Yoga to Zumba.

Schedule your workout on your calendar

The hardest part of doing anything is usually showing up. It is easy to let exercise slip from your mind when navigating the hustle of everyday life. The best way to make exercise a healthy habit is to schedule it like you would a meeting or doctor's appointment.

Get discounts on your health tech purchases through Amazon Outlet

Amazon Outlet is like a digital outlet mall. It is a great way to save a few dollars on your tech purchases. If you have Amazon Prime, the free and fast shipping is a double bonus.

There are lots of ways to improve your health and these tips are just a few ideas to get you going. With a little perseverance, you will be on your way to healthier, happier living in no time.