Staying in shape is really about two things. First you have to find an aerobic activity that you enjoy, or at least don't consider drudgery. And second you have to find a diet that is healthful, but not so boring and restrictive that you can't stay on it. This article is about cool technology that can help you discover, embark on, and stick with the exercise and diet regimens that are right for you. So here we go.
Nintendo's $90 Wii Fit is a home workout program (disguised as a video game) that runs on the popular Wii gaming console. The game hit retailers across the country in May, and sold out in about 2 hours.
Wii Fit lets you choose from 48 activities in four main categories: yoga poses, strength training, aerobic exercise, and balance games. To performthe games/exercises, you stand, sit, or lie on the special wireless Wii Balance Board thing, which resembles a double-wide bathroom scale, and comes bundled with the game. Four pressure sensors inside the board determine where your feet are, monitor your center of gravity, and check your weight. Using the board, the Wii Fit calculates your body mass index (BMI), records other data, and helps guide you through the process of hitting your goals over time.
Visually, the Wii Fit games use cartoon figures similar to the ones that appear in other Nintendo Wii games. The game lets you create these characters roughly in your own image (hair color, facial features, and so on) if you like. Setting up the game for playing takes about 10 minutes the first time around. You can choose from activities such as hula hoop, ski slalom, ski jumps, tightrope walking, boxing, and dancing, so it's pretty easy to find something you like doing; that way, you'll soon forget that you're "working" out.
One of the coolest and most engaging games for the Wii Balance Board is called Shaun White Snowboarding, from Ubisoft (White is an Olympic gold medalist snowboarder). The game drops you into a variety of different snowboarding environments with a number of different skill levels. As you're out carving it up on the virtual slopes, you can feel the weight and shape of the mountain--the rocks, ice spots, bumps--underneath your feet. Even though you might be having so much fun to realize it, the game forces you to exercise the hell out of your leg muscles and (to a lesser extent) your upper body muscles. You'll break a sweat. Between rides, you can pal around with your buddies in a virtual world. You can also spend as much time as you want fashioning the look of your avatar, and selecting accessories such as parkas and snowboards for it to wear. Check out the full review of Shaun White Snowboarding at GamePro.
We've heard good things about Jillian Michaels' Fitness Ultimatum 2009, a game that uses the Wii console with the Balance Board. Michaels is a fitness expert featured on the NBC reality show The Biggest Loser. The game features 11 activities (with light, medium, and hard intensity levels) and offers durations ranging from 10 to 60 minutes. They're categorized in four major workout modes: Weight Loss, Strength Training, Intervals, and Hill Climb. You also get fitness, diet, and lifestyle tips from Michaels herself. In keeping with the TV show, multiple players can compete against each other, cycling through the various workout regimes to see who burns the most calories at the end of the game. Like Wii Fit, Fitness Ultimatum provides a wealth of exercise and progress data (distance, time, intensity levels, and more) throughout the workout.
Garmin Forerunner 405 GPS Device
Okay, now for some real-world exercise. The Garmin Forerunner 405 is the Cadillac of wrist watches for serious runners. The 405 is the svelte descendant of a line of larger, forearm-encircling models that have long pleased runners interested in GPS-based stats like speed, distance, and pace. In our tests of a Forerunner 405 equipped with an optional heart-rate monitor, the unit offered speedy satellite acquisition, accurate vitals monitoring, and lots of detailed running data. The device's touch-sensitive bezel can be problematic, and its battery duration isn't the greatest, but the watchlike 405 should be a great motivational tool.
Nike and Apple have teamed up to integrate the running shoe with the audio player to create a simple yet powerful system for keeping you informed and inspired during your workouts. The kit includes a pedometer that fits inside "Nike+ ready" shoes and wirelessly reports your time, speed, and distance via your iPod Nano. You can opt to have this information appear on your Nano screen; or you can obtain an audible update of your time, distance, and speed by pressing the center select button on your Nano. What I like best about the system is being able to put that special super-psyche-up song in my mix, and select it at the point in my workout where I need an extra blast of adrenaline to complete the final brutal few minutes of my cardio.
To get the whole experience, you'll need to have the following pieces in place: an iPod Nano, a computer, a pair of "Nike+ ready" shoes (usually priced at around $100), and maybe an armband to hold the Nano and receiver.
If you own an iPhone, you have access to a legion of apps designed to turn your device into a powerful health and fitness aid. The iPhone App Store offers hundreds of independently developed applications; here are five of the best ones.
iPump Total Body: iPump has developed some 20 fitness apps that the iTunes store sells, but Total Body ($2.99) is perhaps the least specialized of these, and thus the best to start with. iPump gives you speech, text, and image presentations of preset workouts, each one including some cardio for warm-up and warm-down. When you're done with a workout, the app notes the accomplishment and keeps track of which ones you've already completed. The idea is to cycle through all of the workouts so that you never get bored.
RunKeeper: RunKeeper ($9.99) is a Nike+ app that works with your iPhone. It tracks your runs using the iPhone's GPS radio, and then displays your jogging or walking pace, your distance, and your time. It can even spit out a nice bar graph displaying your speed over a given time period. After your run is over, you can log on to www.runkeeper.com to see your run displayed on a Google map. What didn't RunKeeper's developers think of?
iSpinning: iSpinning is a great (and free) little app for road biking and mountain biking workouts. It uses a growing number of body sensors to track stuff like your heart rate (current, average, and max), biking time, calories burned, speed, distance, and power. You can customize the app's dashboard on your iPhone to display just the metrics you care about.
HangTimer: This $10 app lets snowboarders, skiers, and skateboarders measure their jumps. It identifies the exact length of time they were airborne and the exact GPS location where the jump took place. HangTimer also delivers snow reports, detects ski resorts, and maintains a list of your 10 best jumps.
Quitter: Smoking and fitness, of course, don't mix. The free Quitter app keeps track of the number of days you have not smoked a cigarette, along with the amount of money you've saved by removing cigarettes from your budget.
MP3 Players: The Case for the Shuffle
While your choice of MP3 player is largely a matter of taste, the iPod Shuffle can function as a great, though basic, MP3 player for working out. Advantages #1 and #2: It's really small, and it's easy to clip to almost any piece of clothing you may be wearing. In fact, once you've attached it, you're barely aware that it's there. The weakness of many small players is their deficienct volume output and sound quality. But the Shuffle wins here, too, especially if you upgrade to better headphones from the ones that ship with the player. I use a pair of Sennheiser PX200 over-the-ear phones, which sound great--and loud.
Finally, fitness trainers will tell you that one of the keys to a top-notch workout is "shocking your system." No, the Shuffle won't give you an actual electrical shock, but you'll never know what part of your mix is coming up next on the Shuffle; as a result, the really rocking songs in your mix come up unpredictably, causing an uptick in adrenaline flow and a spike in your performance.
If you don't like running or playing sports of any kind, there's still hope for you, in the form of Dance Dance Revolution, or DDR. What started out as a Japanese arcade game back in 1988 has migrated to the living room and now is one of the most popular gaming genres. It has an obvious aerobic aspect, too: You stand on a dance pad and try to mimic the moves (slides, bumps, grinds, stomps, spins, and shimmies) being executed on the screen while staying on the beat. The game awards you a score based on how well you dance to the music.
There are many versions of DDR with different songs and styles, and most have an "exercise mode" that tracks the number of calories you're burning while you dance. A person weighing 150 pounds burns an average of 16 calories per song while playing the latest Dance Dance Revolution game, the makers say. So a person could burn around 640 calories in one hour of dance-dance-revolting, versus about 500 calories in an hour of jogging.
FitDay: This site helped me work off 10 pounds by forcing me to report honestly the foods I was eating every day and their calorie counts. No more delusional fits of denial ("That donut couldn't have been more that 75 calories!"). FitDay isn't the only site that does this, but the breadth and depth of its food information and its easy-to-use layout lift it above the rest.
RealAge: Fill out a health questionnaire at this site, and it will report your "physical age" (the age of your body), which you can then compare with your chronological age. If you're in good shape, your body may be 35, even though your calendar age is 45. Or vice versa, if you aren't fit. Either way, the site produces a detailed health plan to lower your physical age.
SparkPeople: SparkPeople offers a smorgasbord of nutrition, health, and fitness tools, plus support from experts and a large social network to supply empathy, new fitness ideas, or advice. The site also provides interactive tools such as fitness trackers and detailed meal plans (also free). Finally the site has a great app for the iPhone, so you can check in with the site while you're at the grocery story or the gym.
I hope that at least one of these tech products proves intriguing enough for you to try. Sometimes all it takes is one thing--in this case a faithful tech ally--to help you make the right choice between staying rooted to the couch and getting up and getting your game on. Oh, and please chime in at the PC World Forums to let us know which gadgets, sites, or services have helped you maintain your svelte figure.
Good luck and good health in the year to come.