Historical Museum at Fort Missoula

Fitness Tracking and Coaching Technology 

photo of a senior woman checking her fitness watch before running a rutted dirt road
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(SENIOR WIRE) I am 25 pounds lighter than I was just a few months ago, and my blood pressure is far lower. A better diet and generous amounts of exercise were key ingredients, but the tool that helped me most was fitness related technology.

Fitness is a multi-billion dollar industry, and I do not have the space to cover even a fraction of its landscape. Nevertheless, in my quest for a healthy lifestyle, I explored many different products.

Accurate measurements are vital. They create a feedback loop over time to help you make better choices. Record keeping is tedious, exactly the kind of mundane daily task that I would prefer not to think about. And yet smartphones excel at tedious tasks. It is a perfect match.

I switched to a bathroom scale and a blood pressure cuff that automatically track each use to my smartphone. I wanted to keep things simple, so I chose a single vendor for both products, Withings Health Solutions.

The Withings Health Mate app on my phone collects the measurements without any effort on my part, and I can check my progress over time. The scale and cuff can be used independently by multiple people. The initial setup was a challenge, but, after the setup was finished, they have been trouble free. (Hint: avoid Bluetooth and use Wi-Fi instead.)

In the world of exercise equipment, Peloton has a fanatical fan base, and I can see why. They sell high-quality integrated products that record progress and offer videos with trainers to lead you though your workout. If you like the best, start there. But be prepared for sticker shock—Peloton products are expensive.

More affordable products require careful choices to ensure they are compatible with each other.

There are three ways to track progress with fitness equipment: manual tracking, using an app that records data similar to the way a BP cuff does, or wearable sensors.

Manually entering numbers into an app requires the most effort and is the easiest to avoid.

Mostly because of compatibility and pairing complexity, workout apps that connect to fitness equipment are my least favorite options.

The third option is a wearable device like a Fitbit or an Apple Watch.

Of these three methods, a wearable device is the most flexible and the most reliable. It can work in any context. Wearables will track activity all day, not just your workout. Plus, some wearables can monitor heart rate and breathing.

In general, wearable technology seems like the best overall solution for fitness tracking.

Fitness coaching is the flip side of fitness tracking. It spans everything from basic tracking apps all the way up to personal trainers on video, and everything in between.

Some fitness equipment manufacturers make their own apps, but, with the exception of Peloton, I was not impressed with the ones I researched. As always, your experience may not match mine.

My lukewarm feeling toward connecting a workout app to an exercise machine is based on years of experience with other technologies where future software upgrades left perfectly good hardware behind. A typical treadmill will last years, but there is so much churn in the app and services world that long-term support is unknown.

If your gym has equipment that talks to your phone, great. But when it came time to choose a home treadmill, I avoided one with extra software features or a video screen.

Alongside my preference for wearable sensors, I prefer using a smartphone or tablet for training subscription services. This keeps fitness coaching and tracking portable, providing maximum long-term flexibility.

There are countless fitness tracking apps and a considerable variety of subscription coaching services available. There have been so many feature changes to different products recently that it is easy to get lost in the details or encounter out-of-date reviews.

For me, in addition to the Withings devices I added, I chose a Horizon Fitness treadmill sometime during the middle of the pandemic. We had one when our son still lived at home, and it performed admirably for over a decade.

Because I already own an iPhone, the Apple Watch was a perfect wearable device. Early on, when I was walking at a fairly slow pace, it did not always accurately record the distance I walked compared to the treadmill’s readout, but the other features such as exercise intensity, mapping outdoor walks, sleep tracking, and fall detection make it my number-one choice for a fitness product.

My final bits of advice are probably the most important: when purchasing a home exercise machine, consider an iPad or Android tablet rather than a built-in screen.

Keep in mind that what works for me is not the only way to accomplish fitness goals. The next step is to discover what works best for you. MSN

Bob has been writing about technology for over three decades. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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