Ice Bucket Challenge: Good for ALS, What About Your Health?
Dan Paille of NHL's Boston Bruins takes the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS.
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.
Alice Truong for Discovery Channel
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.
You've probably seen videos of Matt Lauer, Martha Stewart, Justin Timberlake, Ethel Kennedy and your Facebook buddies taking the Ice Bucket Challenge.
In terms of a fundraiser, it's clearly successful: it's helped raise $2.3 million for the ALS Association since July 29.
But do the benefits of cold water dousing extend beyond the ability to make videos go viral? Health claims of cold showers, ice baths, and Finnish saunas (i.e., jumping into frozen lakes) range from improved circulation to speeding up your metabolism.
While studies on the subject have been "all over the place," according to Michael Bergeron, a professor of pediatrics at Sanford School of Medicine of the University of South Dakota, exposure to the cold water would likely have to be at least 10 minutes to have any chance of impacting your body.
"So when people think they're doing marathoners a big favor by spraying them with their garden hoses, it actually does nothing to cool them -- although it may feel good," Bergeron said.
In fact, such a quick exposure could lead to body signals getting mixed up, he said. When cool water splashes a highly sensitive area like your face with lots of nerve endings, you may not sense that you're overheating.
Longer exposures, though, may be beneficial in certain situations: For exertional heat stroke, for example, the best way to quickly lower body temperature is to submerge yourself in cold water -- up to the neck -- for at least 10-15 minutes, he said. There's also evidence that it prevents delayed onset muscle soreness, probably because changing the muscle temperature lessens the damage of overheated cells in the muscle.
Some health and fitness gurus say cold water can improve blood circulation. Depending on the application method, that could be true -- at least temporarily, said Thomas Swensen, professor and chair in the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences at Ithaca College.
"What they're talking about is reactive hyperemia," he said. "Think about when you were little and came inside after being in the snow all day long. You took a hot shower and it felt like your toes swelled up. That was the circulation returning." In order to reduce inflammation, then, repeated applications of ice water would be necessary.
An even more recent trend, alternating cold with heat, is "even more sketchy" in terms of research, Bergeron said.
"It may feel good, but there's no evidence to show it helps you perform better or that it enhances recovery," he said.
Assuming that some benefits of cold water therapy exist, there is some good news: Research from Stanford shows that full-body submersion (i.e., jumping in an ice-cold tub up to your neck) may not be necessary to lower body temperature. The researchers developed a prototype of an ice glove that cools the body through the palm, where networks of veins devoted to rapid temperature management are concentrated.
Since none of these therapies are likely to cause any harm (with the possible exception of cardiovascular patients), experts said, there's no reason not to try them.
"You can argue the perceptual effect: If you think it's helping, it probably is," Bergeron said. "If it motivates you or gets you pumped up, it can certainly enhance performance. But physiologically, it's unlikely."
In other words, there's no physiological excuse not to dump a bucket of ice over your head.