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Tracker Nation (Part 1)

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Technology is making it easier than ever to exercise more, eat better, and live longer and the devices you need are small enough to fit in your pocket or on your wrist.

When most of us think about technology, our minds settle on our computers or tablets or smartphones products usually designed to let us do more personally or professionally. Regardless of how useful these are, it’s not always easy to say they actually improve our quality of life.

Tracker Nation

Tracker Nation

Devices that can, however, are already out there and improving all the time. Your smartphone can already remind you of some positive change you want to make, rather than just about all the emails you haven’t answered. When you check your pocket for your keys, you can learn how much walking you’ve already done that day. Social networking posts can encourage you toward your fitness goals, and a headband you put on before bedtime can teach you to sleep better.

The vast array of available health and fitness trackers like these can be overwhelming, and it’s never easy to know where to start or how to stick with the changes you hope to make. But if you’re interested in making those kinds of changes, you have more options today than ever before and they’re easy enough for anyone to use.

Technology is making it easier than ever to exercise more, eat better, and live longer

Technology is making it easier than ever to exercise more, eat better, and live longer

Step 1

If you’re new to the whole process of using trackers, the best way to begin is by determining where you are. Sign up for a service that lets you record your personal metrics: your weight, exercise regimen, the number of calories you consume, your sleep and heart rate, and so on. Becoming aware of your own habits and patterns is a crucial step in making real changes in your life.

If you’re new to the personal data tracking or “self-quantifying” movement, don’t feel compelled to buy an expensive gadget right away. Start small and plan to grow. If you’re concerned about your weight, for example, counting calories should be your first priority. Doing this can open your eyes to your overall health and wellness patterns, and help you figure out what to do next.

Of course, you can do things a lot more complex than this, but don’t want to take on too much at once. Making one small change (such as accurately logging what you eat for one week), seeing how it affects you, and then making another is a better way to go and you’ll be more likely to maintain the progress you make.

Step 2

A calorie counter or a fitness tracker may be a good way to get information you don’t have, but it can’t do everything. Once you’ve implemented your first small change, you need to stay with it so you can build on your accomplishment.

Consider using investments to motivate yourself. Buy an accessory for your bicycle or a pair of high-quality sneakers to use at the gym. If you spend good money on this kind of equipment, you’ll find that it’s much more difficult to justify not using it.

That said, everyone is motivated by something different. Social encouragement is a popular one for many people – find a friend or a group of friends to exercise with, so you can support each other. Or use rewards and positive feedback to help you reach your ever-expanding goals. Figure out what keeps you motivated, and make sure you include it in the technologies you use or otherwise incorporate it into your lifestyle.

Every online fitness service I’ve seen has a way to connect with friends and sometimes strangers, too – so you can share your achievements and reach out to a network when you need help or a morale boost. If you prefer to keep your fitness regimen private, social sharing is always optional.

Step 3

Not everyone likes to step of a bathroom scale in the morning and a fair amount of health advice out there specifically recommends against weighing yourself daily but a lot of people benefit from seeing their weight change. So the next step in living healthier is to add a second metric, and for many people it will be weight.

Not everyone will be emotionally ready to get on the scale immediately, and that’s okay. Starting small, just by counting calories, will give you the awareness and information you need to take the next step when you’re ready. But using your own personal judgment, and if necessary the advice of a qualified medical professional, will help you figure out what your next move should be, and when you should make it.

Step 4

Once you’ve figured out what metrics you want to watch, it’s time to start recording them in detail so you know where to target the changes you want to make. The trackers we identify at the end of this story are good starting points. Don’t forget to also familiarize yourself with their online components, so you have all the capabilities and features you need.

Regardless of what course you pursue, and which tracker you use to help you get there, taking small but consistent action is the best way to achieve the results you’re looking for. You’ll still need to be committed to your goals, but the little reminders you get from a social network, a smartphone, or a gadget worn on your wrist might make the difference between success and failure.

Calorie counting

MyFinessPal (free) is a  web-site that gives you a wealth of easy-to-use tools for doing the math required for managing your weight

MyFinessPal (free) is a website that gives you a wealth of easy-to-use tools for doing the math required for managing your weight

Calorie apps let you easily log your food and drink intake, and are ideal for use on a smartphone you can take with you anywhere. In many cases you can even scan bar codes of packaged food to automatically calculate serving sizes and nutritional data. Here’s our favorite.

MyFinessPal (free) is a web-site that gives you a wealth of easy-to-use tools for doing the math required for managing your weight, and its companion mobile app is even better (there are apps for Android, Windows Phone, and BlackBerry, too). The MyFitnessPal food database also surpasses what you can find on rival apps by including other user-uploaded foods and recipes.

The best connected scales

Fitbit Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale ($129)

Fitbit Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale ($129)

Fitbit Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale ($129): Watching your weight should be a digitized, routine, and largely automated occurrence. Fitbit has met this challenge with the Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale, which measures your weight and body fat, and syncs the stats to your Fitbit Web account so you can also log and monitor your physical fitness activities, food intake, and even how much sleep you get.

Withings Wi-Fi Body Scale

Withings Wi-Fi Body Scale

Withings Wi-Fi Body Scale ($159): You may not like the idea of a scale that tweets your weight, but the Withings Wi-Fi Body Scale offers lots of benefits beyond that (optional) one. A smart and intuitive display demystifies body fat percentage read-outs, your weight appears in large and easy-to-read numbers, and a companion Web account makes understanding your health a snap. It’s an excellent way to track your fitness results over time.

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