Smartphone fitness: tip top tech shapes up
Obesity is on the rise in Australia and is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain cancersi. As desk jobs and sedentary lifestyles become increasingly commonii, the emphasis on living an active life has never been stronger. But how to go about it?
One way is to set goals and measure your progress. Pedometers - devices that measure the number of steps you take in a day - have been available for some time and are useful in monitoring your daily movement. These days, most leading smartphones include sensors that can be used to measure movement. Motion tracking sensors built in to the latest smartphones - Android and Apple - may include accelerometers, barometers, gyroscopes and geomagnetic sensors. Since the iPhone 5S Apple has also included a separate motion co-processor: one benefit the company claims is to reduce battery consumption during tracking.
The combination of the ability to measure actions, processing power, data storage and Internet connectivity make smartphones a powerful tool to track exercise without any additional equipment. They can also be used with additional devices that connect to them wirelessly by technologies like Bluetooth Smart (also known as Bluetooth low energy) and Ant+. These devices can be anything from a set of scales to heart rate monitors to specialist bike cadence sensors.
There are a huge number of apps available that work with smartphone and standalone motion sensors. Some apps are on Apple iPhone's iOS, some on Android, and many are available on both platforms. There are specialist apps for walking, running, cycling, and even apps that attempt to provide holistic functionality, tracking it all.
Some examples of leading fitness Apps for iPhone and Android include:
Argus: The Argus app is available for iPhone with iOS 7 and above. Argus is a movement recording app that includes a daily step and calorie counter, heart rate and sleep monitor, as well as a GPS recording for running, cycling and driving. The app also allows you to create an interactive food journal. Argus supports third party wearable devicesiii.
Runmeter GPS Pedometer: Not just for running, Runmeter also supports cycling, walking, skating, skiing and other activities. The app can be used to track movement and allows you to compete against other Runmeter users, plan your workouts and share your results on social media. You can even export data in a wide variety of formats including KML for mapping. With third party sensors, the app can be used to track movement and information like heart rate and bike speed, cadence and power. Runmeter also supports third party wearable devicesiv.
Endomondo: Endomondo is a fitness app and personal trainer in one that tracks cardio and strength training workouts as well as heart rate with Bluetooth low energy connected heart rate monitors. When you sign up for the online Endomondo community, you will find motivation and support from users across the globev,vi. Endomondo is available for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone and Blackberry devices.
Runtastic Apps: Runtastic offers specialised apps and hardware for tracking running, mountain biking, winter sports, sleep cycles, weight, heart rate, push ups, sit ups... the list goes on and on. With 22 separate apps available for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerryvii that integrate with the Runtastic fitness hardwareviii, including wearable devices and monitors, you are bound to find the right app for your fitness goals.
Strava GPS Cycling and Running App: Using the Strava App for iPhone and Android, you can GPS track your rides and runs. Your activity will be mapped and key data like distance, pace, speed, elevation and energy used is recorded. Strava supports ANT+ and Bluetooth low energy sensors. Through the app, you can analyse and track your progress and compare your results with friends who also use the Strava appix.
Third party sensors
So with all that sensor functionality in your phone, why would you need a third party sensor? Well, you just might not want to carry a smartphone around everywhere. Your phone might be waterproof, but do you really want to take it in the pool or running in the rain? Or you might want to record information that your phone cannot collect - measuring your weight on a set of scales is a classic example, as is collecting cadence data from your bicycle or monitoring your heart rate. Many devices can also store the data which can then be synchronised wirelessly back with your smartphone, to a computer or to Web sites: you can leave behind your phone yet be confident that you'll be recording all your training information.
Some well-known third party sensor systems include FitBit, Nike+, Jawbone UP and Garmin vivo.
Fitbit: The Fitbit range of smart devices include wrist and attachable trackers, smart scales and accessories. Depending on the device, Fitbit tracks steps, calories, distance travelled, stairs climbed, heart rate, hours slept, location and quality of sleep. Devices can synchronise back to your computer and smartphone. Some Fitbit devices even include Caller ID display and music control for your smartphone when it is within range. Fitbit offer a supporting smartphone app for their devices, and they also work with other third party apps. The company's scale - the Fitbit Aria - can display and track weight, BMI and body fat per cent for up to eight people.
Nike+: Nike has a range of devices and software to track your activity, grouped together under the Nike+ brand. They offer two wearable devices, the Nike+ FuelBand SE and the Nike+ Sportwatch GPS. They also offer the Nike+ Move App (iPhone) and Nike+ Running App (iPhone and Android). Both the Nike+ FuelBand SE and the Nike+ Move App track all day activity including steps, calories and time. The Nike+ Sportwatch GPS and Nike+ Running App provide GPS tracking for runners, recording distance, pace, duration and location. Nike+ Apps and devices also record activity as NikeFuel, Nike's universal activity metric that lets you track trends over time and benchmark against friends.
Jawbone UP: The Jawbone UP devices include the UPmove, UP24 and UP3. All work with the UP App for Android and iPhone and have varying levels of functionality. The UPmove includes activity tracking of steps, distance and workouts, can report on calories used, and log food, drink and sleep details. The UP24 adds a sleep cycle alarm and an alert if you are idle too long. The UP3 adds heart monitoring, auto classification of workout activity and advanced sleep tracking. All devices synchronise over Bluetooth low energy (Bluetooth Smart).
Garmin Vivo: Garmin is a name with a long history in tracking and navigation, from multisport watches to in-car GPS navigation. The company's smart wearable vivo range includes the vivofit 2, vivosmart and vivoactive. The vivofit 2 and vivosmart provide 24 hour a day monitoring of your activity and display steps, calories, distance and time. They even tell you to move if you have been inactive for too long! The vivosmart also includes smart notifications from a Bluetooth linked device. The vivoactive is a GPS Smartwatch that includes built-in apps for running, biking, golf, swimming and activity tracking. The vivoactive pairs with your smartphone to alert you of incoming calls, texts, emails and more.
Devices that attach easily to your clothing or person are becoming increasingly popular but there has always been a concern about their functional look. Worry no more. With collaborations between fitness and fashion, wearing the latest technology needn't ruin your outfit. For example, designers such as Tory Birch are producing a range of jewellery that incorporate your Fitbit tracker into a bracelet style adornment. You will be the only one to know the hidden purpose of your stylish new accessory.
Of course if all the measurement, tracking and peer motivation doesn't get you into a state of peak fitness, there's always Zombies, Run! "Thrilling zombie chases force you to speed up to escape the hordes!" claims the developer. The popular game/fitness app has over 160 missions and tracks speed, route, calories burnt, zombies evaded and more. The app also synchronises with Zombielink and you can share your success outrunning the zombie hordes on Facebook and Twitter. Available on Android and Apple IOS.