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Gadgets and apps to help you get (and stay) fit and healthy in 2019

Let's start 2019 as we mean to go on -- by sitting less and moving more!

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Topic: Hardware
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1 of 16 Natasa Adzic, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Introduction

It's the new year, and I know that it's cliché, but it's a great time to gently shift focus towards health, fitness, and being kind to ourselves. We live in a world where stress is rife, and we're pushed into unhealthy habits such as too much sitting and eating things that aren't necessarily good for us.

Let me share quickly with you my story.

In January 2017, I decided that since I'm surrounded by technology I was going to use it to turn around my health and fitness. Despite being a relatively strong and active person, too many years of being sedentary for too long, combined with eating the wrong foods for the wrong reasons, had resulted in my weight ballooning to over 300 pounds.

Before I go on, I want to say that technology was only a part of the puzzle. Technology wasn't a magic solution, and while leveraging apps and devices made the job easier, it didn't make it easy. And I'm not going to tell you that it was easy.

It wasn't. It was hard.

There were no shortcuts. No magic pill or injection, and no "vibrate yourself to fitness" infomercial-esque, gimmicky solution. The past year and a half has been one that's seen a lot of lifting of heavy things, yoga, swinging kettlebells, calisthenics, sweaty weight vest workouts, more yoga, lots of pull ups and dips, lots of sandbag training, and miles of going nowhere on my Schwinn AirDyne AD6 bike.

But it's also been incredibly rewarding, and I've learned a lot about myself on the journey. As of January 2019, my weight is hovering around the 200lb/90kg mark (I'm a big guy, but I could still take this down a bit if I worked on it, but for 2019 I have different fitness goals which entail shifting focus away from just weight loss and moving towards strength and flexibility... although I'm confident that my weight will continue to slowly drop over the year).

If you're someone reading this who has lost weight, whether that amount is measured in pounds or a few hundred pounds, you have my respect. I know how hard it is, and how rocky the path can be. If you're someone who has weight to lose, I'm here to tell you that you have what it takes inside you to do it. I believe in you. 

I also feel the need to add that I am not a doctor, and would highly recommend that anyone looking to lose weight do so under the supervision of a medical professional. Not only can they offer really useful advice, there's a sense of immense satisfaction that comes from actually seeing yourself get healthier from a medical point of view.


iPhone
2 of 16 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

iPhone

At the core of my fitness endeavors has been my iPhone. It doesn't have to be an iPhone -- I could have done the same thing with an Android smartphone -- but I used what I had.

Not only has my iPhone supplied a constant stream of music, audio books, and YouTube videos to fill the hours I've spent working out, I've also used it to log my calories, get better sleep, and track my progress to my fitness goals.

I'd suggest that anyone relying on a smartphone for anything fitness-related find a good case for it, because your hands will get sweaty, and you will drop your smartphone. Get a case -- or an armband, if you're a runner -- that will allow it to take the knocks that it will inevitably experience and keep going.


Apple Watch
3 of 16 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Apple Watch

I'm a relative newcomer to the Apple Watch, not getting one until the Series 3 device was released, but I've grown to like it as a fitness device maybe more than anything. Not only do I like the whole "closing the rings" fitness metaphor it uses (although I'm the first to admit that it's far from perfect), I also find it to be a very capable step tracker and heart rate tracker.

It's also opened up the way for using a number of apps to do useful things such as track my sleep, heart rate, exercise exertion, and workouts. Again, I'm not going to pretend that it's perfect, and I had to experiment a lot to find the apps that worked for me, but in the seven months or so that I've owned it, the Series 3 Apple Watch has become a key tool that I used to get fit.

And no, I've not upgraded to the Apple Watch 4. As much as I like the new display, it's not enough to convince me to part with a big wedge of cash.

Nokia Body Cardio
4 of 16 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Withings Body Cardio

I was never been one for jumping on the scales with any regularity, but I knew that it was time to get that fixed. And if I can keep an eye on a few other metrics while I'm at it, so much the better.

The scale I chose was the Withings Body Cardio, which along with logging weight also measures a number of other things, such as body fat and lean mass. It also beams this data to the cloud, and makes it available to other apps for logging and processing.

The Withings Body Cardio is a rechargeable device, but it lasts a good 12 months between recharges, and I've only recharged mine three times in the time I've owned it (I don't let the battery go flat and do a recharge when I give it a wipe down).

I've made it a habit to jump on the scales every morning, without fail. That way I get used to seeing my weight go up and down, and I no longer fear the number it gives me, but see having that information as power.


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5 of 16 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Hyperice Hypervolt

Recovery is key to being able to continue training, and a tool that I've found to be invaluable is the Hyperice Hypervolt vibrating massage tool.

This tool is lightweight, cordless, and designed to deliver targeted deep tissue massage to help get rid of those knots in worked muscles, relieve common muscle pain and stiffness, and improve mobility thanks to its three adjustable speed settings delivering up to 3,200 percussions per minute..

It comes with four interchangeable head attachments, and I find that it works really well in combination with foam rolling and stretching work.

Headphones, earphones, and earbuds
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Headphones, earphones, and earbuds

I have different headphones and earbuds depending on what I'm doing.

When it comes to over-the-ear design, the Miiego AL3+ Freedom is the best of the best. These are really good at staying put over my ears and are lightweight and very sweatproof, and mine have been used for hundreds of hours and are still going strong.

I've tried a lot of earbud-type headphones, and nothing comes close to the comfort, quality, and performance of the Jabra Elite 65t. They're great for both music and making and receiving calls, feature wind noise cancellation, and the iOS app allows for advanced features, such as allowing ambient sounds to be mixed with the audio from the iPhone.

The buds have a five-hour battery life, with the charging case offering two more recharges. And recharging is fast, with the buds getting 1.5 hours of battery life with only a 15-minute recharge.

I also have a cheap pair of $15 sacrificial earphones that I keep for activities that might see them getting smashed by weights, stomped on by others, or lost outdoors.

Oh, and the latest addition is a Soundcore Flare+ Bluetooth speaker, which is little bigger than a soda can and yet can fill my home gym (OK, garage, but that sounds better -- not to mention warmer!) with sound. 

I like having a wide selection of headphones, so that I always have a pair that's charged up and ready to go, so I have no excuses!


Nokia Blood Pressure meter
7 of 16 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Nokia Blood Pressure meter

As my weight increased, so did my blood pressure. And it was a problem made worse by the fact that the thought of having that tight cuff on my arm would cause said blood pressure to climb (a phenomenon called White Coat Hypertension).

Enter the Withings Blood Pressure Monitor, which not only gave me an easy way to keep an eye on my blood pressure at home, but also helped desensitize me to having a tight cuff on my arm.

As my weight dropped, so did my blood pressure, without the help of medication.


Philips goLite Blu Energy Light
8 of 16 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Philips goLite Blu Energy Light

I've noticed that, if I don't get enough natural light (and since I live in the UK, that can be quite a challenge), I start to slow down and become lethargic. On the recommendation of several people, I got myself a Philips goLite Blu Energy Light, and my winter blues have completely disappeared.

I have to admit that I was initially skeptical that this would have any affect on me, but after a few days of use, I was converted. Now, I try to get about 30 minutes of use a day (summer and winter) in the morning just to keep me topped up.


Smart Nora
9 of 16 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Smart Nora

When I began my pursuit in January 2017 to use technology to get myself fitter and healthier, one aspect of my health that I wanted to dramatically improve was my sleep. I was sleeping more and more and waking up feeling more and more tired. Part of the problem was that I was snoring.

A lot.

Enter Smart Nora.

Smart Nora is an inflatable pillow insert connected to a silent pump that inflates and deflates the insert. The whole system is controlled by a sensor that detects snoring and activates the pump accordingly, which in turn, stimulates the throat muscles, allowing for natural breathing to resume.

There are so many things that I like about the Smart Nora:

- It works! It works brilliantly! It cut my snoring from "epic" to pretty much nothing the first time I used it.

- The pump is super silent, and the action of the pillow insert doesn't wake me up at all.

- My sleep went from bad to awesome the first night I used the Smart Nora.

- It packs away into a handy carry case.

- It comes with a universal travel adapter for charging.

- It only needs charging once a week.

- Far less invasive than nasal sprays, drugs, or things such as nasal dilators and strips.

- Apart from occasional recharging, I could forget about it.

I have to admit that I was skeptical of the Smart Nora, and I had lots of reservations (I thought it was a gimmick, or feared that the pump would be noisy or that the insert would wake me up). But I became a true believer the first night I used it. It really does work, and it helped me get a good night's sleep as I was losing weight and getting my diet in check.

If you're a snorer, I highly recommend the Smart Nora. It helped me turn around my sleep.


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10 of 16 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Happy Scale app

While the Withings Body Cardio scale comes with a weight tracking, and iOS has the Health app, which also features weight-tracking, I never felt that these gave me the sort of overview that helped me stay on track.

After a lot of trial-and-error, I came across Happy Scale, and it quickly became my favorite weight loss tracking app. Why did I feel I needed a weight loss tracking app? Because it helped to remove the inevitable ups and downs and allowed me to focus on -- and stick to -- realistic goals.


Track app
11 of 16 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Track app

I played around with a number of food tracking and calorie apps before I settled on Nutritionix Track. Not only does it have a large database of popular foods that you can pull up (using a barcode if you have the packaging), but it's also pretty easy to use.

It's not perfect, but I found it close enough to perfect to be worth using.


SnoreLab app
12 of 16 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

SnoreLab app

Do you think you snore? It's easy to find out -- there's an app for that!

I used SnoreLab to listen out for my snoring, and it turned out that I was snoring at what it considered to be "epic" levels. While "epic" might be good for many things, when it comes to snoring it is not.

Once you get a baseline for how good -- or bad -- your snoring is, you can start to do something about it, and you can get proper feedback on whether your attempts are successful or not.

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13 of 16 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

AutoSleep app

One of the things that I did to gain better control over my health was to get better sleep. For too long I'd allowed my sleep patterns to degrade into chaos, and this has a knock-on effect my health, well-being, productivity, and eating.

One app that I found useful for sleep tracking was AutoSleep. Not only is the app simple to use and seems to just know when I'm sleeping -- even if I take a nap in the afternoon -- but it also does a fantastic job of analyzing sleep quality, so much that it's allowed me to get a handle on what is good sleep versus what is bad sleep. It's also allowed me to learn how much sleep I actually need, and keep an eye on when I'm sleeping too much or not enough.


CC Tracker app
14 of 16 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

CC Tracker app

I don't always have access to weights in a gym or my exercise bike, so it's handy to be able to get a good workout in using only bodyweight exercises. And one system that I've had great success with is Paul "Coach" Wade's Convict Conditioning program (don't let the name put you off). So I was really pleased when I found that someone had created an app based on the program.

It's a great little free app that's helped me a lot over the months.


HRV4Training app
15 of 16 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

HRV4Training app

As much as I like training, there are times when doing more isn't the best idea, and it's better to back off a little and allow the body to recover.

Rather than just rely on my mood, one metric that I like to keep an eye on is HRV (Heart Rate Variability), and a great app for measuring and interpreting this is HRV4Training.

HRV is a huge topic, and goes way beyond the scope of this piece, but the folks over at HRV4Training have pulled together a massive amount of information on the subject.

Another great HRV app (and online sources of information) is Elite HRV. If you're interested in the subject, I suggest you put aside time for research so you get the best out of your measurements.


Some things I wish I'd done differently
16 of 16 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Some things I wish I'd done differently

I just thought I'd close by sharing some of the many things I wish I'd done differently during my weight loss and fitness journey:

- I wish I'd had faith in myself early on. I spent months feeling like my achievements were ethereal and could be undone by a single slip-up.

- It's a marathon, not a race. Weight loss takes time, and at the beginning, losing a few pounds feels like nothing. But weight is lost one pound at a time. The more I tried to push things, or lose more weight than I knew I should (for me -- no more than a couple of pounds a week), the harder things 

- Find something that will destress you. For me, that's yoga, but for you it might be walking, or mindfulness, or cycling, or drumming and chanting, or sitting with a candle, or something completely different that works for you. Find something, do that something, and repeat! If you feel bad taking time for yourself, or think others will think you selfish, a guy on the internet gives you permission to do it. 

- Take downtime when feeling ill or injured. Pushing through these things just doesn't help and ultimately just hinders progress.

- Take a look at my eating sooner. Why was I eating? When? Did I eat beyond feeling full? Why? There were some really interesting answers at the bottom of these questions. A therapist or counselor can come in handy here.

- Make health the goal right from the start, not weight loss. There is a big difference.

- Stop worrying about small weight gains and weight loss plateaus along the way. Not only are they common, they're normal. It's the bigger picture that matters.


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