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How simple high-tech gadgets can better your fitness goals

Gone are the days when popping out for a run or making sure you did your stepping class was all that exercise involved. It’s gone all techy, with no shortage of often quite pricey gadgets (and a few freebies) to enhance your fitness goals. Most of the devices below are available from sports, health and gadget shops or online. Research which models suit your lifestyle and your pocket.

Step it up
Let’s start with the simplest… the step counter. Although increasing your heart rate is important if you want to build fitness or lose weight, it’s worth noting that you can burn a fair amount of energy by simply “stepping out!” It is generally accepted that the magical number of steps per day is 10 000, but it’s difficult to find any actual research supporting this. There have been studies that show that as little as 6 000 steps a day can make a difference to overall health.

More than anything else, these gadgets are useful for personal goal-setting. If you decide to get a step counter – first use it for a few days to establish your baseline value, then increase your steps by 500 per day until you reach that magic goal. It couldn’t be easier.

Check your beat
Serious exercisers know that when it comes to exercise, it’s not just about how much but also about intensity. Here’s where heart-rate monitors come in. These clever gadgets, fitted either on a chest strap or on your wrist, help you pace your exercise, telling you when you need to speed up or slow down.

Chest-strap monitors provide very accurate results. They use a wireless sensor to detect your pulse and send this information to a watch-type receiver. Wrist-based monitors use an optical sensor to detect your pulse. They’re certainly more convenient and comfortable, but slightly less accurate.

Both devices time your workout and give continuous information about heart rate – high, low and average. They also usually have all sorts of great options such as lap/split times, the amount of time spent in your “target” zone, calorie counters, etc. Most have a digital interface that allows you to download the info to your phone or computer for analysis. An important function is the ability to tell you how long it takes you to return to your resting heart rate, which is a very good indicator of cardiovascular fitness.

Are you a serial weigher?
Do you know your exact weight? Or are you one of those people who have a vague idea and finds out every now and then when visiting the doctor, and feel horrified that a few extra kilos have crept on undetected?

Some studies have shown that overweight people who weigh themselves regularly are more successful at losing weight, and, more importantly, seem to be more successful at keeping it off.

Latest on the market are body-fat scales which use a technology called bioelectrical impedance to estimate your body fat percentage. These scales send a tiny electrical current up one leg, across the pelvis and down the other leg, and work on the principle that because muscle contains more water than fat, it is a better conductor of electricity. So the greater the resistance, the more body fat. They then use a formula which takes into account height, weight, age and gender to calculate body-fat percentage. Sounds like a great idea but, unfortunately, because results can be affected by variables such as when last you ate or did any exercise, or how hydrated you are, or even how dirty your feet are, they are often inaccurate. In spite of this, these scales may be useful for tracking changes in your body fat over time, which may act as an incentive to lose weight.

Shake it up
Vibration workouts like Power Plate claim to provide a complete fitness solution. So if you’re hoping to lose weight, firm up and boost fitness, these machines basically do it for you. All that is required is that you stand, sit or lie down while the machine sends vibrations that transfer energy all over the body and contract and relax muscles several times per second. Just 15 to 20 minutes per day is all that is required, which makes this a great option for very busy people. These machines also claim to improve overall flexibility and increased blood flow, and to help alleviate back pain and reduce bone loss.

No time for the gym?
Perhaps you could benefit from a personal trainer right in your home. Too expensive, you say? Well – how about free YouTube videos led by well-known trainers. Not surprisingly, there are now endless options in the realm of online health and fitness. Do your research on the expertise of the trainer, the type of exercise you want, and find one whose regime and style you like.

Virtual personal training makes personal training more affordable. Imagine being able to use your iPad camera to send your workout to the trainer, who is then able to correct and perfect your form from thousands of miles away? Include wireless headphones and you can have that annoying voice in your head in the comfort of your own home.

And there’s more…
There’s the sleep tracker. Just tuck it under your mattress and it will check your heart rate throughout the night. How about a smart tracker? Just clip in on to the back of your shorts, aligned with your spine, and it will analyse your running style and offer personalised coaching to help you improve and reach your goals.

Or for the person who has everything: have you ever considered getting a smart fridge? It not only tracks how long food has been in your fridge and tells you by when you need to eat it, also syncs with your smartwatch, so when you walk into the kitchen after a workout, it reads the information from your wrist and makes appropriate menu suggestions based on how hard you worked.

Not strictly exercise related, but with all this tech, you might want to know about the Reliefband. This takes technology to another level – a digital wearable device that treats nausea and vomiting caused by morning sickness, motion sickness and virtual-reality gaming.

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