Healthy changes, healthy apps

A little over a year ago, I wrote about some changes I made in my lifestyle to get into better shape with the help of a variety of apps and devices. Over the last couple of months, I’ve received a number of inquiries to find out whether those changes stuck, how well new devices and apps that have come to market since then work, and what I’ve learned from my efforts.

First, let me repeat a really important disclaimer. I’m not a doctor (much to my parents’ chagrin) nor do I play one on the Internet. What worked for me may not be right for you. Also, before you make any changes in exercise, diet, or lifestyle, check with your doctor. One of the most important things I changed over the years is making sure I have an annual physical and stress test.

Diet and exercise

Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight or improve their health knows that it really comes down to two small words: Diet and exercise. Of course, within that apparent simplicity is a lot of complexity and difficulty. If it were easy, there would be no need for the billion-plus dollar diet and fitness industry. But what worked for me in learning how to exercise and change my diet was to track the changes I was making; thanks to some apps and devices, that part actually is relatively simple.

In the past, my tools of choice were the Nike+ app and sensor combination, a fitbit, a Scosche heart rate monitor, and an app called Fooducate to help track my diet. But over the last year, I’ve replaced many of those tools and even as I write this, there are new devices and apps coming to market.

While there are many fitness apps available for platforms such as Android, the majority of connected devices and their accompanying apps and services are for the most part either available exclusively on iOS or are far more mature on iOS than on those other platforms. The result for me has been that the iPhone and iPad have become central to my new, healthier lifestyle.

I found the Fuel Band imperfect but at the time it was best of breed.

This past year was mostly about the evolution of the fitness devices and services I was using. I originally used the Nike+ system in combination with an Nike+ Fuel Band to keep track of my motion. The latter is a bracelet with integrated USB plug for charging, Bluetooth for syncing to an iPhone app, and a digital display for tracking progress such number of steps taken, calories burned and a unique measure called Nike Fuel.

Nike+ Fuel Band

I found the Fuel Band imperfect but at the time it was best of breed to for keeping track of my movements in the course of the day. Unlike the Fitbit, the Fuel Band is impossible to lose; over the months, I lost at least three fitbits, including a couple that went through the wash. For me, a bracelet design is always going to work best.

But toward the end of last year, Jawbone released a new version of its fitness tracker called Up. Initially released in 2011, the Up was plagued with design problems and ultimately pulled from the market. I started using the new version of the Up in late November and it’s now become my go-to device.

Jawbone Up

Why do I like it best? First, it’s ubiquitous, smaller and lighter than the Nike Fuel band and designed to be worn 24/7. In addition to tracking motion and fitness, it also tracks sleep, something I’ve found every useful. Finally, the Up adds in a comprehensive food-tracking system that allows you to easily track your food intake with an impressive UPC scanner to quickly add foods eaten on the go; that means one less app I need to use.

Jawbone Up

The combination of features in the Up has made it the one device that I use on a daily basis to track and maintain my target level of activity. It’s design isn’t perfect (most notably, the cap that needs to be removed to sync and charge begs for a re-design), but overall I think it’s the best of breed for all-in-one use for now.

The combination of features in the Up has made it the one device that I use on a daily basis.

How well have I done with these new tools? I’ve gone from running six to ten miles a day to runs of up to 23 miles (an all-time high for me). A recent foot injury has me walking instead of running these days, so the ability to track overall daily motion is even more important to me; that's something for which a motion-tracking device of some kind becomes essential, as it’s all too easy simply not to move as much as I should. I’ve maintained my weight loss and according to my doctor, am in better health across the board than I was when I first started this journey.

If you resolved to get in shape, lose weight or just run a few miles without feeling the need for oxygen this year, then there’s never been a better time for you to find the help you need in the devices you might already own. Remember, see your doctor before you make any radical changes. And remember that, as you figure out a health regime that works for you, there are apps and connected devices to help you and a community out there to cheer you on.

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