For most of us, the hardest part about exercise is just lacing up and getting out the door. The phone rings, you have kids to get ready for school, meals to prepare, bills to pay, e-mail to return…Motivation isn't always easy to come by when you have a slew of responsibilities hanging over your head, waiting impatiently for the minute you return from your jog or bike ride. Still, as more of our busy lives move online, many people in pursuit of fitness are finding that technology can provide a real life kick in the pants.
While fitness gadgets and apps can't do the workout for us (at least not yet!), they can provide a necessary psychological boost to help many people take the initiative to get moving. A recent Yahoo!/OTX survey found the number of people turning to the Web to research fitness has more than quadrupled over the last 15 years. More than a third of the 2,016 Americans we polled in May say they use an activity tracker to keep tabs on how many calories they are burning each day.
37% told us they use the Internet to participate in a diet, weight loss or fitness community. Right now, on Yahoo Groups, there are more than 17,500 different social networks devoted to exercise and living fit.
Finding support in the virtual world can be powerful for many people, especially for those who may not have found a partner to share daily workouts. On Lance Armstrong's LiveStrong.com health and fitness website, there is an entire section devoted to people trying to connect with others who are striving for the same fitness goals.
Click on "Dares" and you can tap into a diversity of dares (like a running a first 5K) and a community of people rallying around them.
Another site that offers support along with very practical information is MapMyFitness.com. It's one of a family of sites focused on a wide variety of cardio exercises, including running (MapMyRun), biking, walking and hiking. It boasts a huge database of maps with the functionality to allow users to give reviews of routes, post their favorites on the site and also share with friends on social networks. The company recently unveiled a very cool mobile phone app for iPhone, Blackberry and Android phones that includes GPS so you can track where you are while you exercise. Look for iMapMyRun, Ride, Hike, etc.
MapMyFitness will soon also release a small device to plug-in to your smart phone that will sync with a heart rate monitor.
One of the best things technology can afford is instant feedback during exercise. The $99 FitBit seems like the stuff of science fiction in that it senses your movement throughout the day and records your overall activity output.
It's lightweight clip on sensor that you wear all day, even during sleep. The tiny device knows the difference between walking, running or even climbing stairs. Once you dock it to your computer with its base station, it will upload all of the information from the day and provides a detailed assessment of steps per day, calorie burning and even the quality of your sleep.
Two other fitness accessories that can assist with training are heart rate monitors and high-tech running or cycling watches. Many coaches, including the ones I trained with for the NYC Triathlon, recommend that athletes track the various heart rate zones that correlate with how much effort one is putting out during exercise. Polar recently read my mind (not really) and just came out with a $69.99 sports bra with a built in heart rate monitor. The snap- on sensor stays close to the skin and does away with the need for a chest strap that can often lead to uncomfortable chafing.
Another popular must-have for many runners is the Garmin Forerunner 110. Starting at $199.99, the watch (which comes in a cute pink and grey style) uses GPS to track pace and distance with a simple push of a button. It also docks to your computer so you can upload workouts to a training diary.
Once you've made the decision to take your fitness to the next level or perhaps train for a competitive event, you may be logging a lot of miles outdoors and in the elements. Here's a smart, high tech alternative to carrying a clunky wallet or fanny pack when you are on the go. The RoadID Interactive tag can be worn on your wrist, ankle or attached to your shoe. For $29.99, you go to RoadID.com and set up an Emergency Response Profile with your emergency contacts, allergies, insurance information, etc. If you have an accident, a first responder will have instant access to your information just by using the serial number and PIN on the back of the tag.
Finally, for many people, myself included, music is a huge motivator.
But between your phone, MP3 player or iPod, and headphones there are a lot of cords and gadgets to organize and coordinate while you are moving. ScotteVest is a line of workout gear designed with special pockets and magnetic closures to keep all of your stuff in place.
For more on high tech fitness and to see what some of these products look like, check out my recent appearance on the TODAY show.What gets you moving? Do you use any kind of technology to exercise?
Please share your thoughts and tips with me.
Heather Cabot, Web Life Editor (Yahoo!)