Mike Olsen still has the polo shirt that he wore in 2008 when he was at his heaviest—283 pounds, to be exact. "It reminds me of an umbrella now, or a hammock," he says. Six years later and 100 pounds lighter, thanks to a fitness and diet revamp that has melted the pudge off and replaced it with muscle, you'll find him sporting different clothes—and one telltale gadget on his wrist. "It's a Fitbit, and it's one of my favorite tools," says Olsen, 33, of New Windsor. "It keeps track of how many steps I take each day, how many miles I travel on foot, how many calories I burn, how many flights of stairs I walk up—I don't know how it does that, it blows my mind—and how many minutes I've been active," he says. "Oh, and it's also a watch." One of several motion-tracking wristbands on the market these days, the Fitbit helps him set and reach his daily goals, which are anything but modest. The five-foot-eleven, sixth-grade English teacher strives to take no less than 20,000 steps and burn 3,500 calories daily. "I don't hit that every day," says Olsen. "But at night if I feel my wrist vibrate to let me know I've reached my goal, it's a great feeling."
Survival of the (High-Tech) Fittest
These days, if you want to work out, plug yourself in. If you need to lose weight, log on. Time for boot camp? Boot up. Gadgets, apps, and social media tools for health and fitness are all the rage. Wearable activity trackers like the Fitbit, Jawbone, and NikeFuel are the accessories of choice for the fit and wannabe fit alike. (Despite a recall of its Fitbit Force model earlier this year after some customers complained that the device gave them rashes, Fitbit still leads the pack with 67 percent of market share.) Don't want to invest in a multipurpose wristband or clip-on tracker? There's a motion-tracking app for your Android, too, such as the free Pacer pedometer. For calorie counters, food-tracking apps like MyFitnessPal, Daily Burn, and My Diet Diary will crunch the numbers. There are even "smart scales" like the Withings Smart Body Analyzer, which do a lot more than give you your weight; they also measure your body mass index, heart rate, and air quality. (No, they don't tell you your fortune.)
As if to validate the runaway trend in health and fitness techware, Apple announced last month the creation of HealthKit, a new platform that will act as a single interface on your iPhone to assemble data about your health—everything from your sleep quality and weight to blood pressure and nutrition. The technology will become available to iPhone users in the form of a new Health app introduced with iOS8, due out this fall—and one of the most amazing features will be its ability to send critical health data directly to your doctor. Could this be the future of preventive care?
Local digital entrepreneur Dan Stone believes that it is. Stone, who is a principal at Evolving Media Network, a Kingston-based digital design-and-build firm, has embraced the cyber health trend with the zeal of a tech geek—if not an exercise junkie. "I'm not trying to be superfit," says Stone. "Instead, I'm using these devices to create more awareness." Stone has three gadgets in his arsenal—a Fitbit Flex, a Withings scale, and a Withings blood pressure monitor. Each one costs about $100, but Stone says it's a worthwhile investment to have key information about his health literally at his fingertips. As for HealthKit, Stone will be an early adopter. "I want to have all the data [that my gadgets collect] in one place, but to do that right now you have to engage in some hackery. What HealthKit will do is give you one centralized location to report the data." If it all seems futuristic, Stone points out that the technology has been going in this direction since the advent of the personal computer in the 1970s. "It's part of a whole movement called the Quantified Self—which is a group of people who focus on using computers to log personal information and aggregate data about themselves." You might think of it as the Me Generation morphed into the Virtual Me Generation—a kind of cyber-navel-gazing that has the potential, if we use it right, to make us healthier in the long run.
Real Foods & Online Inspirations
Olsen may love his Fitbit, but initially, it was a much more primitive form of technology that helped him revamp his body. It was a security video camera. "I was at one of those Putt Putt mini-golf places, and I went inside to get my gear. I looked up and saw a very overweight, unhealthy-looking man from behind on the [surveillance monitor] screen. The first thing that came to my mind was, 'Wow, that guy is really fat.' But then I took a step forward and he took a step forward. I took a step backward and he took a step backward. I didn't break down and cry," says Olsen, "but it was the worst feeling ever, to know that was me. It was my rock bottom. I had a two-month-old daughter at home, and I didn't want to be the dad who couldn't play with her because he was too big to move. I knew from then on that I needed to drop weight and not feel like that and look like that."