If you’re not wearing a body monitor that senses your moves and tallies up your daily energy expenditure, then your workout may be missing it’s pizzazz. Or at least its brains, because I’m telling you, these smart monitors are pretty smart. Unlike myself, who must look really dumb for wearing them off of every belt loop, pocket and arm I own.
So, what is a “body monitor”, other than machines that track vital signs in the hospitals? To one degree or another, they are like the free cereal-box pedometer, but on steroids. Some can tell whether you’re climbing or walking; others can give you vital sign insta-feedback. Others give you personalized incentives to exercise more. They’re great for kicking up the pace of whatever you do, from grocery errands to training for a marathon.
These little devices are chock full of sensors. Lots of sensors: accelerometers, gyrocsopes, heart rate monitors and other sensory tools are thrown in to report back on how far you’ve gone, how fast and how many calories burned. And don’t forget about some form of communication (Bluetooth, etc) to your smart phone or PC. Basically, you’re hitting the streets wearing a tiny, space-age device that provides a data dump and real-time feedback about what your bodies been up to.
FitBit is the granddaddy of these devices, and the new FitBit Ultra is the second generation. FitBit monitors everything you do, both moving and sedentary. You can even find out how much (or little) you sleep each night. Slap on the FitBit wristband, and log the time you hit the pillow – and it’ll monitor how many times you wake each night. During the day you can clip it just about anywhere on your person.
The Ultra, like many of the newer monitors, has an altimeter that can measure your climb as well as your steps. Steps are converted into calories burned, an overall fitness score, and distance travelled. FitBit has no display screen. You transmit your data wirelessly to a base station attached to your PC. Plus, a new mobile app lets you track your food consumption, and creates a full circle look at your inputs and outputs. Pick up your own FitBit Ultra for $100.
Striiv is one of the newest entries and it’s all about making exercise fun. As it tallies the “results” of your exercise into points, you can decide to spend your winnings by donating the converted points to charity, or reward yourself with some game play – set in a land of enchanted make-believe.
Striiv looks a lot like an iPod Nano – sleek and small, with a beautiful touch-screen display (the touch-screen function can be a tad finicky at times). You can carry it in your bag, clip on your belt or wear like a necklace. Striiv asks for a few vital stats and then gets you off and running. You can find out exactly how far you’ve gone or how many calories you’ve burned with a single click. The device doesn’t sit as close to your body as the FitBit, but there’s almost no end to the fun. It’ll compare your accomplishments (miles walked, for example) to things you can wrap your head around: a “large fries” equivalent or “climbed more steps than in the Statue of Liberty”. Get the Striiv on their website for $99.
BodyFit Media uses an armband to track movements, which means it has the advantage of getting some upper body input. This little device measures activity states from sleeping to floor mopping to ice skating. While it lacks display screen readout, BlueTooth connection lets it communicate with your smartphone. As an added bonus, the armband has an impressive battery life – lasting for days without recharging. BodyMedia’s first iteration was a bit bulky, but they’ve just introduced “skinny-ed” up new version. The company partners with everyone from Jenny Craig to Jillian Michaels to get the word out and add workout options. On the downside, it’s the most expensive at $179, plus a subscription fee for online activity manager.
NewYu is the lightest body monitor of the bunch and it’s also versatile and cost effective. NewYu attaches up close and personal – the least obtrusive of the bunch. It doesn’t have a built in display but there are a series of onboard lights to gauge your effort. The manufacturer says that the monitor uses advanced pattern recognition technology to recognize specific workout activities like biking or elliptical training.
And there’s more cool gadgets to come in the world of self-monitorification. In the new few weeks I hope to be wearing these up-and-coming devices:
MyBasis may be the lightest weight, elegant and versatile monitor yet. It tracks everything you do, and adds blood flow, galvanic skin response, body temperature, and stock quotes (OK, I’m kidding about that last one). That means it’ll also analyze stress levels and overall fitness to a degree that may be more than you really want to know.
MotoActv is a cool-looking wristwatch-style device that combines music with running, walking, cycling and your other movements – it learns what music best suits your output of the moment. MotoActv has built in GPS to track where you are, and it’s ruggedized for outdoor workouts. It’s also the most expensive of the crew, beginning at $250. The various mounts (bike, belt, etc.) are additional, as is the Bluetooth headset that tracks your heartrate.
The new Jawbone Up from Aliph is a really cool-styled bracelet. The sensors are embedded in the bracelet and all the requisite smartphone apps/diet monitoring/sharing are included. You’ll see it in stores later this year. Jawbone Up is listed at $99 on their website.
Phew, 10,000 footsteps and 1,000 words later – I’m pumped. Workouts AND grocery shopping just got a rush of adrenaline.