Smartphone apps to fight battle of the bulge

Gadgets won’t make you thin, but they might help you get that way

Thanksgiving is over, but the marathon of meals we often encounter in the ‘Holiday Season’ has only just begun. This was always a tough time of year for me during my cop days — of course, back then the word ‘apps’ meant puffed pastry treats and other such pre-supper snacks. I worked nights, and saw daylight only when I got off work and was heading home. The cold weather kept me indoors and less active, and the holidays provided even more opportunity to eat badly and pack on the pounds. I don’t know that any of the tech I’m going to tell you about would have helped me stay fit for duty, but any of these would have been better than what was then state-of-the-art equipment... I think it was called a “Thighmaster.”

To begin, Up is a combination hardware gadget and iPhone app — sorry, not (yet) made for Android. The hardware portion is a thin plastic-coated bracelet that contains an accelerometer, a vibration motor, a battery, and a connector for the iPhone. The battery will run the bracelet for up to ten days before it needs to be recharged, but you’ll probably be plugging it into the phone more often than that to update the activity and sleep data it records.

The bracelet monitors your movements and counts how many steps you take, how many calories you burn, and notes active and inactive times. If you have a sedentary job, it will vibrate periodically to remind you to get up, walk around, and stretch a little. If you carry your iPhone with you when you walk or run, it will sync that activity with the phone’s GPS sensor and record your route, distance traveled, pace, etc.

Worn when sleeping, the bracelet will monitor your movements and record the number of hours you slept, deep vs. light sleep, and overall sleep quality. The bracelet doubles as an alarm clock, but wakes you during the portion of your sleep cycle that is least disruptive to getting some quality rest. Sleep is a critical and often overlooked component of wellness, especially for cops who work irregular hours and are prone to burn the candle at both ends.

The app has a diet function that records what you ate and how you felt, rather than just calories and composition. You take a photo of whatever you’re eating, and after a bit the Up app asks you to record the effect of the food. We’ve all gone for the gut bomb at one time or another and regretted it later when it was sitting in the stomach like a sandbag and there was a sensation of cooking grease oozing from the pores. By recording the reaction you get from eating certain foods, you’re reminded what felt good later on, and hopefully reinforce the intention to eat healthy.

If you’re a competitive type, you can upload your Up data to a website where you can compare your efforts to others in a group you create. This allows you to have a workout buddy on the other side of the world or the other side of the patrol car, as you like. There are also “challenges” on the Up website where you can work toward a set goal or standard and track your progress. The Up bracelet is $99... the app is free. The bracelet is rugged enough to wear for everything except maybe swimming or diving.

Available for both Android and iPhone is Runkeeper. This free app uses the tech built into the Smartphone to perform most of the functions of expensive special-purpose fitness gadgets like the Nike Sport Kit and the FitBit. When you install the app on your phone, you also create a free account on the Runkeeper website. Runs and walks are recorded in the app for time, route, elevation, pace, and so on. You can create a music playlist from within the app and program the beats or pace to that portion of your workout.

Other workout routines, such as resistance training, are also recorded in the app and uploaded to the Runkeeper website. You can opt to have your workouts posted to Facebook and Twitter automatically, if you like, and you can create workout groups with other Runkeeper users, no matter where they might be. There are “fitness classes” that create workouts preparing you for races of distances from 5K to a full marathon. There’s no charge unless you want to join their “Runkeeper Elite” service ($4.99/month or $19.99/year), which communicates workouts in real time and provides access to more discounted fitness classes and more advanced reports.

If you’re already a hard-body gym rat, you don’t need tech like this to keep you moving and motivated. But if exercise is something you do because you have to rather than because you want to, these aids might help with the battle of the bulge.

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