Life truly began for me a few weeks ago when a box containing my UP by Jawbone – a wristband that tracks how you sleep, move and eat – arrived. Of course, meeting my husband, giving birth to my sons and watching my older son recently become a bar mitzvah trumped the joy any material possession has given me thus far in my life. Still, this tracker has made me very happy. It's like having a new best friend.
Being a numbers person my whole life (yes, I'm one of the few people who actually loves math), I like to keep track of myself – especially when it comes to my physical activity and workouts. You can say I'm a "like to know where I'm going so I know when I get there" kind of person.
While I've always been active, I didn't start keeping track of my exercise until I moved to New York City 22 years ago. Well before hand-held devices like iPads, iPhones, and Blackberrys became appendages, I kept track of my physical activity – walking, running and weight training – using good old-fashioned index cards. I filled up the fronts and backs of countless cards and always felt proud when I had a pile of them stacked up – a testament to my active lifestyle. Being accountable not only helped me lose a little weight and, over time, keep off more than 30 pounds I had lost since high school, but it reinforced my enjoyment of doing things to stay fit. It also gave me a sense of purpose.
After a good stretch of 5Ks, 10Ks and even a 10-mile race – all done with my husband in the early to mid-1990's – I stopped keeping track of my exercise on index cards. Still, over the last decade or so, I've morphed into an avid walker. I spend most of my fitness time circling Central Park or exploring by foot some other part of New York City. But while I've stayed active while raising a family (my sons are now almost 15 and 11), I haven't consistently kept track of what I've done to stay physically active.
Although I've experimented with various pedometers to track my steps and miles, none have come even close to my UP wristband. I now wear this magical bracelet every day and use it to not only measure how many steps I take and miles I cover but to track my time spent being inactive (e.g., writing at my desk). I set goals for distance walked and less sedentary time.
I try to wear the wristband during all of my waking hours. Doing so makes me feel productive and accomplished, and motivates me to #moveitorloseit (my mantra). It's fun to see how far I can walk on any given day. When I wear the wristband, I feel positive pressure to move more. It's like putting a little more time in the office to earn extra credit. For a few weeks, the app even told me I'm in the top 20 percent in distance for UP users. My new goal is to go even farther and do more – maybe I'll crack the top 10 percent!
Am I addicted to my little blue bracelet? A little bit. Just the other day, I actually felt naked when I inadvertently left the wristband charging on my laptop while I ran errands. It's like those steps didn't even count!
I love the devices so much that I recently resorted to stuffing it in my bra while at a fund raiser (the blue rubber wristband didn't quite go with my yellow cocktail dress). Sure enough, it dutifully tracked all the steps I took that evening – even in my super-high heels! (I am secretly hoping that the makers of the wristband create dressier versions that look more like jewelry … A girl can dream, right?)
Do you have a favorite app or tracker that makes you feel accomplished and motivates you to move more or eat better? Here are what some of my colleagues had to say:
SiriusXM radio host Jenny Hutt loves to use MyFitnessPal to track both her eating and exercise. "Works like a dream. Super easy to use. And fun," she says. Registered dietitian Christine Thompson, who also uses MyFitnessPal daily, calls it "an awesome app with a huge food database!"
Joan Salge Blake, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and clinical and author of "Nutrition & You," MyFitnessPal can be a great weight management tool. She cites a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine that showed individuals in a structured, weight-loss program who used mobile technology (in this study, a personal digital assistant) to monitor daily food intake, weight and physical activity lost an average of nine pounds more than those in the same program who didn't use the high-tech monitoring system.
Lisa Dorfman, registered dietitian and author of "Performance Nutrition for Tackling Stress," recommends two apps to her clients. A favorite among them is Lose It, which tracks calories, fat, carbohydrates and protein as well as exercise. She also recommends RunKeeper, which she says "is like a GPS and calorie tracker for running, biking hiking – you name it."
A new app developed by orthopedic surgeon and author Vonda Wright called UmuvU (YOU move YOU) provides an extensive library of Wright's exercise programs as well as a blog and a fitness tracker. "It puts everything in one place to go with you, wherever you go," Wright says."It also provides timely rewards and pushes and helps you track your progress."
Registered dietitian Alexandra Lautenschlaeger of Spartanburg, S.C. loves MyFitnessPal. "I have been using it since July 2011 and have logged 563 miles so far. It's really motivating and allows you to set personal goals and pick different running training programs," she says. You can also have a "team" to help with motivation by sharing your progress through links to social media.
Rachel Berman, registered dietitian and nutrition director for CalorieCount.com and author of "Boosting Your Metabolism For Dummies," loves the free CalorieCount app. "What sets CalorieCount apart from other apps is the positive, supportive community of like-minded people with whom you can share favorite foods, meals and recipes," Berman says.
Since last summer, New York-based registered dietitian Toby Amidor has been using Fooducate, which helps her quickly determine the grade of food she's purchasing. "I especially like to use it when I go food shopping with my kids. If they want to buy a "special treat," it needs to have a score of at least a "B" in order for them to put it in my shopping cart."
For those who want to know details about ingredients in the foods you're eating, registered dietitian Christopher Mohr of Louisville, Ky. recommends InRFood.
Full disclosure: I write a monthly blog for CalorieCount.com. No goods or services were received in exchange for mentions of any of these apps.
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Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, is the founder and president of Zied Health Communications, LLC, based in New York City. She's an award-winning registered dietitian and author of three books including Nutrition At Your Fingertips. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and New York University, Zied inspires others to make more healthful food choices and find enjoyable ways to "move it or lose it" through writing, public speaking, and media appearances. You can connect with her on twitter (@elisazied) and through her new Stressipes forum on her website: www.elisazied.com.