Gadgets and Gizmos:

Is Exercise Technology for You?

There’s nothing like feedback and encouragement to help you walk, run or bike that extra mile, or hit the gym more often – and for today’s athlete, a flashing, beeping array of cool exercise gizmos offers an instant answer to the panted question, “How am I doing?”

You don’t need electronic devices to exercise and stay healthy, says Aimee Nicotera, Fitness Director at Canyon Ranch in Lenox. If you’re not into technology, simply gauging your workouts by how you feel is just fine. On the other hand, if you like the detailed information that a workout app or wearable piece of technology can offer, it may be just the bundle of motivation and reinforcement you’ve been looking for.

Exercise apps and devices are a way to keep you honest, says Aimee. “You may think you’re working harder than you really are. The truth hurts sometimes. It’s tough love from a little gadget.”

Specialized exercise monitors include a wide variety of bike computers, which can track mileage, speed and many other parameters – but most exercise gizmos aren’t geared specifically to a certain activity, says Aimee. “Serious athletes will probably use a heart rate monitor, but it’s all about getting feedback. Knowing we’re making progress is what keeps most of us going.”

Whether you go high-tech or stick gold stars on a workout calendar, anything that motivates you to move is a good thing, says Aimee. “But if you use a gadget and forget to bring it along, it’s still no excuse not to exercise!”

Heart rate monitors
“Heart rate monitors are a great tool,” says Aimee. In addition to your heart rate, which indicates your workout intensity, they also measure calories burned, and compare your progress daily or weekly. After you’ve worked with a trainer to learn your optimal workout intensity, it’s a useful tool to keep you on track with your personal workout regimen.

“A monitor can show whether you’re working hard enough, or too hard, depending on your fitness goals. You can use your heart rate reading to determine when it’s time to recover, or start the next interval.”

Workout apps
Into apps? There are countless apps designed for athletes, from beginners to professionals. Aimee says, “Many running apps work on your iPhone, using a GPS system. For example, Run Keeper maps your route, distance, speed and more. It can be used for running, walking and cycling. A cool feature is that you can hook it up to social media, and your friends can cheer you on. It’s like bringing your own cheerleading squad along.”

Don’t have a smartphone? Websites such as Daily Mile allow you to track your workouts, routes, miles and mood, and chat with friends about your progress.

Smart bracelets
Up the ante with wearable technology that talks to a workout app. For example, says Aimee, “UP, by Jawbone, is a wrist band and app that monitors your sleep, food and movement and tracks patterns.” Charts and graphs can show what time of day you’re most active and how much deep sleep you average. It will compare your caloric output for each activity.

The Nike Fuel Band, usable either as a wrist or ankle band for runners, walkers or cyclists, tracks movement, like a pedometer. It can count activity patterns, including times and distance, and how many calories you burned. Fitbit™ is another option.

“It’s just another visual to keep you motivated,” says Aimee. “You can set goals, and the readout lights up more as you get closer to your goal. You can also share your day on social media; if you’re in a group, you can tweet back and forth and compare progress."