5 Health Trackers That Really Work

Tracking how well you eat, move and sleep is a great way to lose weight and get fitter. Here, new body monitors that can really help.

By Judy Jones
weight losstracking fitbit philips directlife gruve bodymedia armband zeo sleep
(Clockwise from top) 1. Bodymedia Fit Armband BW 2. Philips DirectLife 3. FitBit 4. Gruve 5. Zeo Personal Sleep Coach
Photograph: Levi Brown

For years I’ve wondered how I, a self-professed health nut, could possibly be gaining 10 pounds of pure flab per decade, just like every other average American woman. So when More asked me to test the latest wave of health and fitness trackers, I decided it was time to play the numbers game.

Why would that help? Because feedback on how you eat and move is one of the few tools proven to motivate you to make healthy lifestyle changes. In a study at the University of South Carolina, for example, participants who wore activity-monitoring devices and attended support groups for four months lost as much as triple the weight of those who attended groups but didn’t use the devices. And unlike old-school pedometers and heart-rate monitors, the newest gadgets are incredibly sensitive and comprehensive: They use brain wave monitors, galvanic skin sensors, 3-D technology—everything, it seems, except spells and incantations—to follow your behavior patterns around the clock. And in doing so, they raise your consciousness.

“One of the reasons so many people lead sedentary lives is that they lack awareness of how little physical activity they actually do,” notes Anind Dey, PhD, associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University and director of its doctorate program at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute.

And I, in my self-delusion, turned out to be one of them.

True, I used to work out like Rocky training for the title match, but that dedication ended nearly 15 years ago, when I became a single parent. What the trackers revealed is that today I am almost entirely sedentary, chronically sleep deprived and accustomed to consuming about twice as many daily calories as I burn. But a month of tracking my every move has changed all that. I began exercising more and eating less. I feel like Wonder Woman—and have dropped a full size in my jeans.

The trick is to choose the right device. Although the trackers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, they mainly differ in how much feedback they provide and how they deliver it, so choosing one is largely a matter of picking what kind of technology feels comfortable to you. Here’s how each of them did—and didn’t—help me.

FITBIT
TRACKS Steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned
COST $99; online coaching and in-depth data analysis are available for an additional $49 a year; fitbit.com
This simple two-inch plastic clip, which can be attached to clothing or slipped into a pocket, uses a 3-D motion sensor and a light-up display (including a digital flower whose stem grows longer as you accumulate activity) to keep you updated on how close you are to reaching a preset daily activity goal, such as how many calories you want to expend. It relays this information to your computer wirelessly, along with data about the timing and intensity of your exercise. The user-friendly website has an excellent food diary that you can update via your smart phone. After wearing the Fitbit for a day or two, I found it as cheesily endearing as a Japanese cyberpet; pretty soon I was walking more and eating more healthfully just to keep the little guy happy. A word of warning, however: The Fitbit is so small and unobtrusive that it’s as easy to lose as your train of thought. My clip lasted only three days before I accidentally flushed it down the toilet.
BUY IT IF You almost never lose anything—and are motivated by knowing how many more steps you need to take today to lose weight tomorrow.

First Published April 26, 2011

What’s your reaction?

Comments

Alexandru Petru05.20.2011

I know that a lot of people want to get thiner but I actually want the opposite. I just can't get any fat to stick to my body, but I noticed that when I work out, I actually gain weight. I don't really know why this happens. jocuri cu masinijocuri barbie

Peter Rudy05.18.2011

I've played Play2Bfit twice and found it amazing. Losing weight, increasing my energy, improving my cholesterol levels, and all while having fun competing. It's a great way to get back into the swing of an exercise program.

Sarah DeVries05.10.2011

Our office is abuzz with positivity and healthy activity since first playing the game nearly 3 years ago. We stay motivated through the competitiveness and bonus activities and the team aspect is beneficial for both our individual commitments to fitness as well as our work environment and corporate culture. Play2BFit is AWESOME!

Cytheria 05.10.2011

And unlike old-school pedometers and heart-rate monitors, the newest gadgets are incredibly sensitive and comprehensive: They use brain wave monitors, galvanic skin sensors, 3-D technology—everything, it seems, except spells and incantations—to follow your behavior patterns around the clock. And in doing so, they raise your consciousness. replica watches replica handbags

Tim Carroll05.09.2011

Play2Bfit has tremendous opportunities for me to maintain a routine that is manageable at a variety of levels. If my schedule is super tight I can still play at a level that works and that I can succeed at. When I have more time schedule wise and during any given game, I can "Up my Ante" and soar. The easy to use website and the team building that logging in online manifests is a constant encouragement. Last winter while Minnesota was under a mountain of snow I was able to devise activity that suited the environment and learn new ways of challenging myself. The progress that is visually displayed and the tips and goals sections are also highly motivational.

05.07.2011

It's been a year since I first discovered Play2BFit and not only am I still enjoying the healthy level of activity that I started then, but I still keep in touch and receive support from my teammates too. Such encouragement makes a big difference!

judy waple05.06.2011

My husband and I are in our late 60's/early 70's and credit Play2BFit with keeping us movtiated to "move, move, move". We enjoy the team spirit and challenges and find the fact that our team is depending on us for points to be motivating. The real proof of the game's value though is how much better we feel, how much stronger we are,the improvement in diet, and the shift to better habits. Access to a plan, encouragement, advice (and prizes!) from the professional trainer and owner, Britt, are invaluable.


Our company sponsored a team of 4 to join Play2Bfit, back in the Fall 2010. You get started by choosing 3 goals. For me, I wanted to increase the # of days I exercised; I wanted the duration to be longer; and I wanted more variety in my regime! Play2Bfit and that competitive spirit and training advice you get from Britt was exceptional! 5 months since achieving my goals and they're still in place! I'm biking, swimming and running - 6 days a week for a minimum of 45 minutes and up to a couple of hours! The game created the focus I needed to change my habits and make them stick! As a company, we continue to use Play2Bfit as part of our Wellness offerings.

05.05.2011

I love Play2Bfit. I work in a calorie demanding industry and I find this game to be the perfect complement to motivate me to keep moving -- doing something-- every day. It isn't overwhelming with 'shoulds' - just keep moving in a way that's good for you- for life. And I do! Great team game too.

jen 05.05.2011

I LOVE Play2BFit! I played it for almost a year straight. I'm already very active, but this game motivated me to try new activities and push for those extra couple of points. I really liked having data on my exercise & still keep up the good recording habits this game started.

Tammy Beasley05.05.2011

Just discovered Play2BFit a few months ago, and love it! It is a fabulous motivational tool to keep you on track with fitness, and the team game complete with weekly challenges and prizes adds to the fun. I am encouraging my nutrition clients to play as a team, since regular exercise and group accountability are two of the key components of long term weight management success.

05.04.2011

We have been playing Play2BFit for about 4 years and really like the way it keeps you motivated. It's fun to play with (or against) family members even if they live far away. There are always helpful tips, and weekly games to keep you focused on your goals. We are always more active when we play the game. We love it!

Lana 05.04.2011

I've been playing Play2BFit for several years. I'm 64 and plan to play until I'm 90, maybe longer! The team approach is motivating and I do so much more than I would on my own. And classes at the Y count as points in the game! Win-win!

Post new comment

Click to add a comment