June 4, 2010

Take technology to heart, literally

I lied. I promised that this installment would tie my previous columns about the wireless revolution together. But I have something a little more pressing to discuss this time around.

I had a little health scare about a month ago. After suffering with some chest pain for about a week, I found myself lying in the emergency room with all kinds of tubes and wires leading to and from my body. The diagnosis was bleak for a 37-year-old: a very minor heart attack brought on by coronary artery disease. The prognosis, however, was good. No noticeable damage had occurred to my heart and with some lifestyle changes I could reduce my risks for a second event dramatically.

I can’t believe that my first love, cheeseburgers, would end up literally breaking my heart.

As I was lying there, I got to wondering if, aside from the aforementioned heavenly inspired ground beef product, technology hadn’t had a hand in my predicament. After all, when you stop and think about it, a lot of breakthroughs in technology have seemed to allow the sedentary to be, well, more sedentary. Cheeseburgers and I might “just be friends” now, but no way am I going to let my love for technology ebb as well. So I set out to find a way to incorporate some technology into my new “heart healthy” life.

There’s an app for healthy eating

My doctors told me that I needed to get my blood pressure under control and remove the built-in personal floatation device around my mid-section. There are a couple ways of doing that, with diet and exercise topping the list. So I turned to my trusty iPod for some help. I was pleasantly surprised to find a plethora of apps designed for just such a purpose.

The first, LoseIt, is the centerpiece of my rehabilitation. This cool little app is really just a calorie counter. But in addition to counting calories, LoseIt will track nutritional values and calories burned through exercise. Did you know that riding a luge sled for 30 minutes burns over 300 calories (even though the average Olympic luge run lasts about 3 minutes)? That’s just one of the many exercises in the built-in library.

LoseIt asks you how much weight you want to lose and then, based on your current age, gender and weight, calculates how many calories you can eat each day. It has some nice graphing features that help you to see how well you are doing, to help provide some motivation. LoseIt also has an accompanying Web interface that lets you download reports and compete with friends who use it too.

I have another calorie counter on my iPod, but I don’t use it every day. I keep Eat This Not That around more for scare tactics than anything else. This app, based on the widely popular books of the same name, grades popular restaurant and supermarket foods on caloric and nutritional content. Just reading the content of some of my favorites is enough to cause a heart attack.

The second app that I use every day is HeartWise, a record-keeping utility that tracks blood pressure, resting heart rate and body weight. Like LoseIt, HeartWise has excellent graphing support and exports reports directly from the app. My doctor likes this feature because I can just e-mail him my progress.

HeartWise also allows you to add notes to your readings. If you are stressed out due to some external influence like your boss screaming at you, you can just make a note of it. That way you can use it against him when you are bucking for a raise or some extra vacation time.

There’s an app for exercise, too

If eating right is half of the get-healthy equation, then exercise is the remaining 200 percent -and let’s face it, exercise pretty much blows. With that being said, how do you make exercise fun? Nike+ is how.

Here’s how it works: You put a specially designed sensor in the bed of a Nike+ running shoe, and then you run. OK. It is a little bit more involved than that.

The sensor sends signals to your Nike+ enabled iPod or iPhone, or a Nike+ watch, which acts like a pedometer. You can then upload your walking/running data to your profile on the Nike+ website, creating a virtual log of your exercising. You can even push notifications to your Twitter and/or Facebook account, the better to alienate your overweight, out-of-shape friends, who know that running, like jumping jacks, rapidly approaches impossible once you hit 30 years old.

It’s tough to successfully incorporate running into an exercise routine, more so if you aren’t in shape to begin with. That brings me to one more app that is helping me make strides with a running program, pun fully intended. Using a walk-to-jog-to-run progression, three times a week, Couch to 5K is exactly what its name implies – taking you straight from the couch to being able to run a 5K within a 9-week period. The idea is to slowly build up strength and endurance so your body will be able to run longer distances.

Although you can use Couch to 5K as a standalone app, I prefer to “stack” it with Nike+, which seamlessly integrate to give you the ultimate in a training package.

Make no doubt about it, advancements in technology can definitely allow the out-of-shape keyboard jockey to continue to deteriorate. That certainly was the case for me. But it doesn’t need to be that way. The few tools I’ve discussed here are just a sampling of what is available. Whether you are looking for training aids, motivational tools, or logging utilities, there is something out there to help you reach your fitness/lifestyles goals.

Next time, as promised, I will return to our conversation about the wireless revolution and what glorious things we can expect with the proliferation of 4G networks.

Until then: Reputo, lego, diligo.

Michael D. Wailes is an Interactive Developer at Burns Marketing and Communications in Johnstown. If you have questions or would like to suggest a topic for a future Geek Chic column, e-mail him at news@ncbr.com.

I lied. I promised that this installment would tie my previous columns about the wireless revolution together. But I have something a little more pressing to discuss this time around.

I had a little health scare about a month ago. After suffering with some chest pain for about a week, I found myself lying in the emergency room with all kinds of tubes and wires leading to and from my body. The diagnosis was bleak for a 37-year-old: a very minor heart attack brought on by coronary artery disease. The prognosis, however, was good. No noticeable damage had…

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