How Wearable Tech Is Changing Exercise Research
Time to make up for December's bad habits by doing better in 2012. Here are the best tech tools to help you shape up and keep healthy. Who knows? You might actually keep your new year's resolution this time around. Sure, Basis can tell you time, but if you want to know your blood flow, motion, temperature, heart rate, sweat level and blood oxygen level, it'll tell you those too. With a plethora of sensors, the monitoring watch keeps an eye on your vitals, giving you an overview of health, sleep and exercise habits. Basis is an honoree for the upcoming CES Best of Innovations Design and Engineering Awards in the health and wellness category. Available for pre-order for $199. This article is part of a series about getting fit in the new year. Check out the entire Man up! feature here.
MotoActv Heart-rate Monitor
The MotoActv wants to be your personal trainer. This tiny device tells when you reach or leave your target pace, heart rate or PowerZone based on your programmed profile and goals. And to keep you going, it creates a performance playlist, pulling songs that you burned the most calories to. It also takes on a few personal assistant duties, including fetching your incoming calls and displaying on-screen text messages. Begins at $249.99.
Withings WiFi scale
For better or worse, scales don't lie. In fact, the Withings WiFi scale tells you the cold hard truth: weight, body fat percentage, and BMI. Each time you step on, it registers these stats and sends them over your home wireless network to a private Web interface. The dashboard keeps tabs on your progress with static and interactive charts. You can share this information with your doctors, personal trainers, friends and family. If you feel so inclined, you can even tweet your progress to the entire world. Available from ThinkGeek for $164.99.
BitGym Fitness Games
The average American household has 1.15 cardio machines according to the San Francisco-based health startup BitGym. But overwhelmingly, they're left to collect dust. Get ready to use the treadmill again because BitGym's iOS games are designed to keep you going. One of them, Trail Runner, shows inspiring landscapes as you're on an exercise machine, speeding up or slowing down based on your real-life workout performance. Game prices vary, but lite versions are available for free.
If you prefer to run outdoors, Runtastic is an app that tracks your location, distance, time, pace and calorie consumption. It has charts that show your speed, altitude, pulse and training history. The pro version includes voice feedback, live tracking, cheering, pulse-reading, geotagging, workouts, competitions, and an integrated music player. Its iOS and Android apps have the most functionality, but Runtastic is also available on BlackBerry, Windows, and bada phones. Prices vary by device.
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JayBird Freedom Earphones
The JayBird Freedom was designed for the gym rat. It uses Bluetooth connectivity, so there aren't long cords to trip over. The sound is big -- great motivation when your power track comes on. Plus, it's got enough variety of ear cushions, tips, and hooks to make sure you find the right fit; one that stays on when you're on the go.
Fitness Technologies Underwater MP3 Player
Music can motivate runners to go longer distances, why not apply the same principle to swimmers? Generally electronics and water don't mix very well, but Fitness Technologies' UWaterK7 was built for just that. The compact waterproof MP3 player debuted in the fall and will be making an appearance at CES in January. Also expected to make an appearance: the company's line of HD waterproof action cameras and waterproof stereo Bluetooth headsets. Available for $100.
Alice Truong for Discovery Channel
Mophie Outdoor Battery Extender and Maps
Grab your iPhone. You're going for a hike. Not only does the mophie juice pack plus outdoor give you extended battery life (about 2,000 mAh, or eight hours of talk time on 3G), a corresponding app gives you access to 5 million square miles of high-resolution maps covering the continental U.S. and Hawaii. Once you download them, you no longer have to worry about losing reception. Plus the app records your progress, speed, distance, elevation, and geo-tagged photos. Available for $119.95.
Drift HD Video Camera
A good workout doesn't always mean hitting the gym. Head somewhere beautiful and find a fun activity, like biking or snowboarding. Action cams such as the Drift HD can be a good motivator to go outside. They capture amazing moments in 1080p HD video, which, upon watching, will make you want to go right back outside again. The small, light camera can be mounted to helmets or strapped on wrists and can also be controlled remotely. A night mode also means you can record in dusty or dark conditions. Feeling motivated to get your workout on? Visit our Man up! feature, chock full of info that will get your heart pumping.
The technology in fitness trackers is changing the way researchers study exercise, allowing them to gather much more detailed information about how people move throughout the day, experts say.
The change is being driven, in part, by advances in accelerometers, the sensors often found in fitness trackers that detect motion, and the speed and direction of that motion. Wearing an accelerometer-containing device on the waist or the wrist can capture a person's movement throughout an entire day.
The wealth of information detected by today's accelerometers provides researchers the opportunity to study not only exercise, but also sitting, standing and walking, and eventually get a better idea of how these activities affect health, experts say.
In the past, researchers relied on questionnaires to find out what activities people engaged in during the day. But such surveys captured only a slice of people's time, because they asked about specific activities, such as whether a person went on a brisk walk or biked to work, said Richard Troiano, an epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute's Applied Research Program. [10 Fitness Apps: Which Is Best for Your Personality?]
"With the kind of devices we're using now … you're capturing all of their physical activity — all their movement profiles, from all different contexts," Troiano said.
Accelerometer data will be particularly useful for studying light activity — like ambling around the office — which is hard to quantify and which people may not always remember doing, Troiano said.
Eventually, studies that use accelerometers will help researchers answer questions like, "How much sitting is too much?" and could lead to updates of national activity guidelines, said William Haskell, a researcher at the Stanford University School of Medicine, who is conducting physical-activity research with accelerometers.
Accelerometers and exercise
Researchers have been using accelerometers to study physical activity as far back as the 1980s, but the amount of information they collected was limited. For example, the accelerometers that were used in national studies conducted between 2003 and 2006 could collect data only once per minute, in one direction, Troiano said.
Now, a number of advances in technology have greatly increased the amount of information accelerometers can collect. Today's accelerometers have higher-capacity batteries and more efficient microprocessors, and can store much more information on small computer chips, Haskell said. In fact, modern accelerometers can capture data 80 times a second, in three directions.
With this type of fine-grained data, "you can begin to use accelerometers to detect much more accurately the types of activity that people are doing, and the intensities they're doing," Haskell said.
And whereas older accelerometers had to be worn clipped onto a waistband, during waking hours, today's accelerometers can be worn around-the-clock in a wristband, Troiano said. Switching the location of an accelerometer from the waist to the wrist also boosted the number of hours that people in studies remembered to wear the devices, Troiano said.
In a national study conducted in 2003 to 2004, participants were asked to wear accelerometers on their waists, and as few as 40 percent of participants in certain age groups wore the device for at least six days. By contrast, in a study conducted in 2011 to 2012 of participants wearing accelerometers on the wrist, 70 to 80 percent wore the device for at least six days, for an average of 22 hours per day.
Researchers are still trying to figure out the best way to analyze the data collected from wrist-worn accelerometers, but they hope to be able to accurately distinguish among many different types of activity, including sitting, standing, walking, cycling and riding in a vehicle, Troiano said.
If researchers agree on the best approach for analyzing accelerometer data, such a method could cross over to the apps used with commercial fitness trackers, Troiano said.
Changing activity guidelines
Current U.S. guidelines for physical activity recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (such as brisk walking), or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (such as running), per week.
But the guidelines don't say much about light-intensity activity, such as how much time you should spend sitting versus standing. "All we kind of say is, 'Sit less, and be active more,'" said Haskell, who was chairman of an expert panel that advised on the development of the current U.S. guidelines. That's because researchers don't have scientific data to back up any recommendations on light activity, he said.
However, that could change as researchers gather more information from studies in which people wear accelerometers, and are followed over time to see the health outcomes.
"This technology provides the potential to develop much more prescriptive guidelines" about light activity, and sedentary activity, Haskell said. Eventually, recommendations could suggest the optimal way for a person to spend his or her full day, Haskell said.
Some fitness trackers already make recommendations to users regarding light activity — such as get up every hour at work — but these suggestions are not based on long-term studies of people wearing accelerometers.
A recommendation like getting up every hour is "what we think we would be telling people, but we don't have the data to justify guidelines," Haskell said. "We need more data on those issues."
Original article on Live Science.
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