Staying healthy with technology

Living a healthy lifestyle is easier than ever before thanks to an array of fitness apps, wearable devices, and other smart products. Here's how you can harness the power of technology to lose those extra pounds.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Hundreds of thousands of people make resolutions to start the new year off right. Given today's society, which puts a lot of emphasis on appearance and self-image, the most popular resolution deals with losing weight or living a healthier lifestyle. Every January the treadmills and ellipticals are filled with eager gym-goers. Like clockwork, however, after a couple of weeks the gym returns to its normal state of isolation.

Resolutions are hard to keep (I didn't maintain any of mine from last year) and living a healthy lifestyle is even harder. With the demands of work, raising a family, and other obstacles we are met with, it's just too much of a hassle for most people to count calories, make healthy food choices, and get to the gym a couple of times a week.

Luckily, we are in a golden age for technology. Companies big and small are creating devices and services to help simplify our everyday lives, and that includes numerous technologies that can help you achieve your health goals.

From various apps to wearable devices, here are some of the best tools to help you lose weight:

Apps

We use smartphone applications to connect with friends and family, meet new people, and even order food. It would only be natural that we also use these devices to help us stay in shape. There are numerous cross-platform applications that can turn any smartphone or tablet into the perfect personal trainer and help you shed those extra pounds.

There's an old saying: perfect abs aren't made in the gym, but are cooked up in the kitchen. Lifting weights and cardio are important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but eating right is just as, if not more, beneficial as working out.

Calorie tracking
There are hundreds of fitness apps out there, but one of my favorites for keeping track of the foods I eat is MyFitnessPal, an app that simplifies the process of counting calories. MyFitnessPal is free and available on all major mobile platforms: iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone.

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After supplying the application with information about your weight, goal weight, gender, height, birth date, and daily activity level, you will be ready to go. MyFitnessPal gives users all the tools they need to lose weight and live a healthy lifestyle with features such as meal tracking and daily calorie intake recommendations.

Calorie counting has never been so easy. Food can be entered in manually, chosen from a user-generated catalog of more than 1 million items, or even scanned with your smartphone's camera. Reminders can also be set to ensure that you never miss logging a meal.

Dan Graziano/CNET

MyFitnessPal is just one of the many calorie-tracking applications available for mobile devices. Similar programs you can check out include Lose It, Calorie Counter by FatSecret, and My Diet Diary, all of which are available for Android and iOS.

Running partners

RunKeeper
When I was in college I always had friends and coaches to train with. It's easy to lose motivation for working out, especially on cold or rainy days, but a training partner can help fix this. While a physical person is best for training with, there are also apps available to those of us with lazy friends.

Apps like RunKeeper, Runtastic, and Endomondo (to name a few) are perfect for runners with years of experience or even newcomers. All of these apps track your distance, time, pace, and calories burned, the downside being that you must run with your smartphone. They also provide you with vocal updates regarding your pace and speed after you reach a certain distance.

Each app also has unique features that may appeal to you. RunKeeper allows you to set workout reminders, Runtastic has a "Story Mode" feature to make runs more entertaining, and Endomondo hosts numerous challenges that puts you head-to-head (virtually) against other members of the app's growing community.

RunKeeper, Runtastic, and Endomondo are available in free and paid versions on Android and iOS; all three also offer monthly/yearly subscriptions for premium features. Other running apps you may want to check out include Nike+ Running and MapMyRun, both of which are available for free on Android and iOS.

Fitness games

What better way to stay in shape than to play a game? Apps like Zombies, Run! and Fitocracy offer a fun and entertaining way to stay active. The Zombies, Run! app is one of the most unique fitness apps available today. Not only are you told a story while running, you are living it.

Along with tracking your distance, time, and pace, the app includes numerous "missions" for runners to complete, such as picking up virtual supplies. The app takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, which means you will sometimes hear and be chased by zombies, and the game doesn't end once your workout does. The virtual supplies you picked up on your run can be used to help strengthen your base and community to survive the hordes of zombies.

Zombies, Run! makes running and working out more enjoyable than ever before. For a limited time, the app can be had for $3.99 (it usually costs $7.99) on Android and iOS. You may think it's pricey, but nearly a million people have already joined in on the fun.

Screenshot by Dan Graziano/CNET

Another app you may want to check out is Fitocracy, an MMORPG-inspired fitness gaming app and social network. Each time you log a workout you earn points that will help you level up. The idea is similar to a game like World of Warcraft, but rather than controlling an orc or an elf, you are the character.

The company's extensive database also explains how to do a vast amount of workouts, which makes Fitocracy more appealing to first time gym-goers. Fitocracy can be accessed on the Web and from the company's free Android and iOS apps.

Wearables

Wearable devices are slated to become the next big thing in tech, and we here at CNET have embraced the future. Numerous devices have come our way, many of which are aimed at fitness and helping you live a healthier lifestyle.

Activity trackers
In the month of December, the Fitbit Force, the Jawbone Up24, and the Nike FuelBand SE were ranked in the CNET 100, a one-of-its-kind leaderboard that tracks tech's hottest products, with the Force and the Up24 making the top 40. Fitness trackers are becoming smarter, more accurate, and easier to use.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The FuelBand can track your steps and calories burned, the Up24 adds sleep tracking, and the Force brings distance and elevation tracking, in addition to steps, calories burned, and sleep tracking. All three of these devices support syncing with an iPhone with an iOS app.

The Force also supports a limited number of Android devices, such as the Galaxy S4, Galaxy S III, Note 2, Moto X, and Nexus 5, among others. Force, Up24, or FuelBand owners who don't have a compatible device can view their data, achievements, and goals on the Web.

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These devices are perfect for the average consumer. While athletes may also enjoy the information these wearables provide, they are probably better off with one of the high-end fitness watches.

Fitness watches

For more hard-core runners, I recommend checking out either the Adidas MiCoach Smart Run or a Garmin Forerunner. These watches deliver serious amounts of information for serious athletes. Thanks to an array of sensors, including GPS, the Smart Run and watches in Garmin's Forerunner series display distance, pace, time, and calories burned.

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The Smart Run also includes an optical heart rate monitor, which can help bring your training to a new level. The downside with these standalone fitness watches is the price; they usually retail for around $300.

Smart scales

You've heard of smartphones, smartwatches, and maybe even smart socks , but did you know there are also smart scales? That's right, a scale that is smart. What does this mean? These scales, depending on the specific product, can calculate your body mass index (BMI), body fat percentage, and weight. Two products to consider are the Withings Smart Body Analyzer and the Fitbit Aria , both of which have their own benefits.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Smart Body Analyzer is capable of measuring heart rate, indoor air quality, and is compatible with apps such as MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper, and Endomondo, among others. The Aria syncs wirelessly with Fitbit's Web site and mobile apps, and also integrates with the company's wearable devices like the Force and the Flex.

The Smart Body Analyzer is available for $150, while the Aria can be had for $129, both a relatively steep price to pay for a scale...no matter how smart it is.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Internet

The last and most effective tool that can help you lose weight is arguably the most important piece of technology from the 20th century. It's the Internet, the single greatest resource for discovering new information and connecting with others.

Message boards, social networks, and online guides are just some of the tools you can access online. These can help you stay motivated and connected with like minded individuals, while also learning new ways to stay healthy.

 

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