From gadgets to apps to social media, technology can have a positive impact on our quest for better. Gadgets like the Fitbit, Wi-Fi scales, and GPS-enabled smart watches bring us the concept of the “quantified self.” Never before has it been so easy to measure and track our personal health metrics. Apps like Run Keeper turn our smartphones into personal trainers. And the explosion of social media has made building awareness and communities around health and fitness more accessible than ever before.
These are your tools so choose them wisely. We’ll review these technologies and share our experiences (because we love shiny new techy things) so you can make smart choices and leverage these tools to improve your life.
With great power comes great responsibility. (Thanks, Spider-man!) We need to be mindful of striking a tech-life balance and use these technologies for betterment – avoiding distraction, frustration and tech-induced procrastination. For more on the topic of tech-life balance we recommend checking out Dot Complicated.
Dot Complicated: Untangling Our Wired Lives
by Randi Zuckerberg
Go Go Gadget dumbbells!
OUR RECENT REVIEWS
So you wanna make a smoothie? I've been mixing up protein shakes for a post-workout boost and sometimes just as a breakfast replacement. Ingredients are important, of course, but you won't get very far without a quality blender. I started out with a Ninja that served me well for a couple of years before it started to break down. Fortunately, I was gifted a Vitamix, one of the premier blenders out there. I was a bit skeptical because these things are EXPENSIVE. I wondered if it was really worth the investment. Could it really make a great shake? Here are some quick thoughts on my Vitamix experience...
- Power, power, power - There's no questioning that this blender could crush a Cadillac if you could fit it inside the pitcher
- Super smooth blending - Much better than a blender you'd find in the $100-$200 range
- Easy clean up - A few drops of dish soap, water and run the clean cycle, rinse and air dry. No need to dismantle and run through a potentially damaging dishwasher - might be the best feature
- There is a learning curve - it takes some time to find the right ratio of ingredients to get a really smooth smoothie
- It's loud - sounds like a jet engine but what blender doesn't
- Cost - Even though it was a gift, I know it was expensive - it's worth the cost of entry though as it will serve you well for many years (hopefully) vs. having to replace a lesser machine every year or two
That's about all I have to say here. Love my Vitamix. Go for it if you do shakes or smoothies once a week or more. You won't regret the decision.
If you want to change it, you have to measure it. What's so smart about a scale? Review of the Withings Smart Body Analyzer
What does progress mean to you? Being better could be losing weight, gaining weight (more muscle, less fat), improving overall physical fitness… It's tough to know if you are making progress against your goals if you don't measure. I'm not simply talking about obsessing over the number on the scale. Weight is a really poor measure of health and fitness. A more useful approach involves measuring a number of data points over a long period of time. Things like weight, body fat, and heart rate, when measured over time, can give you useful insights that will guide you in making the right changes to meet your goals and give you a pretty good overall state of health.
It seems like everything from video game consoles to toasters are connecting to the internet these days. Gimmick? In many cases, the answer is probably yes. However, some practical uses are starting to emerge that will make the insights gained through data analysis useful in everyday life.
I'm a fan of most gadgets and technology but was a bit skeptical when researching connected scales. If you were to ask me a few months ago how much I weigh, I honestly would have no idea. I rarely stepped on a scale - mainly because I am a believer that weight alone just doesn't matter. Health does. Furthermore, dishing out $150 plus for a scale that talks to my smartphone just didn't seem like a prudent use of money. After all, you can find scales that measure weight, body fat and heart rate on Groupon for $25.
My research eventually led me to the Withings Smart Body Analyzer. It's a "connected" scale that can measure all of the things we mentioned above - weight, body fat %, pulse - plus a few others like room temperature and air quality. The scale connects to your home Wi-Fi network and/or your smartphone via Bluetooth in order to interact with the Withings Health Mate app. The scale is easy to setup - powered by batteries (included), setup took about 20 minutes. Once connected, simply step on the scale (bare feet required to measure body fat) and let it run through a series of measurements. The measurements will be displayed on the scale's LCD screen and synchronized with the Health Mate app wirelessly. That's it - the scale can distinguish between multiple people automatically and recognize you the next time you use it.
If you want to change it, you have to measure it.
So that's great and all but the utility comes into play with the app. The Health Mate app records your data over time and displays trending data in a graphical view. This allows you to not only see how your weight is changing (or staying the same) but will give you an indication of progress against your goals. Are you getting fitter? (Heart rate going down over time). Building muscle? (body fat down, weight up.) If you're hitting the gym and eating right and these numbers aren't changing, this could be a sign that it's time to change your strategy. A number of other data-driven features are available when combined with your smartphone including step tracking and integration with other apps like RunKeeper and MyFitnessPal. All of this added value and the insights provided by the app is what really sets this apart from the $25 Groupon-type deals for scales that stop at simply taking the measurements.
Obsessing over your weight = not so smart… Using a connected scale to measure your progress over time = pretty smart move!
Check it out here: http://www.withings.com/us/smart-body-analyzer.html
If you decide to give it a try, you can support us and keep posts like this coming by purchasing through our Amazon link below - free shipping for Prime members!
Paranoia aside, I'm always looking for an edge in my pursuit of betterment. Being a big fan of Onnit and their products, I decided to give their Alpha Brain supplement a try. Alpha Brian is a "nootropic" - who knows what that means, Google that s*!t - which claims to enhance mental abilities like memory and focus. Sounds good to me. One of its effects is also to promote vivid dreams.
A quick word about supplements... There is no magic pill. There are no supplements that I take daily and I believe that they impact everyone differently. You need to research and determine what exactly might help you in your personal quest for better. There can be benefits though, and I believe that certain natural supplements have their place in a healthy lifestyle.
I ponied up an bought a 30 capsule bottle of Alpha Brain. I took one capsule per day and two capsules per day towards the end of my supply. 1-4 capsules per day is recommended depending on weight and desired results.
I can't really say that AB enhanced my mental functioning - I'm a sucker for the placebo effect so if you tell me this pill will improve my focus, I'll believe it. I can say, however, that there was a noticeable impact on my dreams. Very vivid, detailed and I woke up remembering them which usually doesn't happen.
Bottom line - do your research and find out if this if right for you. If you'd like to try it out you can find Alpha Brain over at Onnit or click through the banner below.
After numerous second chances, I finally decided to retire my Fitbit Flex. It just wasn't meant to be… You can read my Fitbit review here to understand why. This decision left my wrist naked (except for my Pebble of course - that's currently on probation though.)
The main attraction of using the Fitbit was that it gave me an easy way to track my steps and keep tabs on my overall level of activity. I still want to do that so I thought about trying another tracker like the Jawbone UP. If you have one of those let me know how it is in the comments.
Before dropping another $100 on another fitness gadget, I thought about the hardware that I always carry anyway - my phone! If you have an Android or iPhone you can bet that there will be an app for just about anything you can imagine. Pedometer to track my steps? Yep, there's an app for that.
I came across Pedometer++ and thought I'd give it a try. It only works with the iPhone 5s so if you don't have that model you can stop here and search for something compatible with your device. If you're thinking about upgrading to the iPhone 5s, read on to see why it's a good choice as a fitness companion.
The Pedometer++ app does one thing only. It tracks your steps. It doesn't count calories, doesn't log sleep, and doesn't motivate you with inspirational affirmations. It just tracks steps. And it does it rather well. This is all made possible by the M7 co-processor chip contained in the iPhone 5s - hence the reason the app is only compatible with that particular model at this time.
The M7 chip is a processor built into the iPhone 5s that is designed to track motion activities. So really the phone is tracking all of this data already and the Pedometer++ app taps this data to give you a graphical view of your step activity. You can set a daily step goal and export your data.
The data seems to be quite accurate. There was a short period of time when I used both the Fitbit and the Pedometer++ app so I was able to compare their readings and the results were not identical but pretty close. If anything, I would think that the app was more accurate because the Fitbit tends to register extra steps from wrist movements even when you aren't walking or running.
Pedometer++ is a free download in the app store so it's definitely worth a try. Even if you already have a wearable step tracker like a Fitbit, you may want to put this on your phone anyway for those times when you forget to put on your device. You pretty much "set it and forget it" and you can reference your activity level on demand to see how much you're moving throughout the week.
So there you have it, Pedometer++ saved me from dropping another $100 on a new wearable device and my trusty phone keeps tabs on my steps.
I just finished up The End of Illness by David Agus. The book was brought to my attention by the Steve Jobs connection - Agus treated him for his cancer - but David Agus is an accomplished researcher, pioneering doctor and forward thinker when it comes to overall health and how we approach disease prevention.
Agus' approach to health focuses on treating the body as a complex system - which it is - that is influenced heavily by its inputs. The inputs could be sleep patterns, food, exercise, drugs and supplements, bacteria or any number of things that influence how the complex systems in your body work for or against you. He talks about how we need to change our approach to treating diseases like cancer with a focus on prevention and leveraging technology to advance medicine (e.g. sharing your health data anonymously to gain insight from the vast amounts of data at our fingertips). The book takes a deep dive into a number of research studies and the specifics of how proteins work to keep our systems running smoothly. Beyond that, there are some great tips for taking control of your health and much to think about.
Should you be taking a multivitamin? According to Agus, the answer is no. Whether or not you agree with everything in the book, the point is to get you thinking about truly managing your health. It's a call to action that I think we all need to work on.
If you aren't as interested in the science, you might want to start with his follow-up book called A Short Guide to a Long Life. That's the one I read fist - it's a straight to the point list of the things you can do today that will help propel you toward a longer, healthier life.
Both books are recommended if you are interested in what you can do to take control of your health and influence your own outcomes. You can use the links above if you want to preview or purchase on Amazon. They are also available in our SHOP.
To BETTER health!
And now some words of inspiration from Rod Stewart...