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Fitness tracking

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Hey there, Tech Savvy fans! Well, this week I wanted to give you a little update on how my fitness tracking is working, and also give you a little review on a new addition to the mix — the Link Armband by BodyMedia. As you may know, this whole journey started with my desire to finish what I started last year and lose the remaining 15 pounds on my goal.

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I started out with the FitBit One. It is a great daily tracker and I’ve been really happy with the way it tracks my routine movements. While the FitBit did allow me to upload workout information and such, I found myself wishing that it would be a little more intuitive when it came to my workouts. Enter an opportunity from BodyMedia Fit. You may recognize the name, as these are the same armbands that are used by the contestants on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.” On the show the participants use them during their workouts to track their caloric burn rate and as a basic gauge to how intense their workout is to stay on track for their weight loss goal. Now that technology is readily available for average Joes such as you and me.

First let’s dispel a couple myths. This armband is not only for those who want to train at a high level, or have extreme weight loss in mind. The settings, apps and dashboard can be adjusted to fit varying degrees of lifestyles. On its website, www.bodymedia.com, lists out a multitude of ways that the device can be used. At its core is a basic fitness tracker, much like the others I have taken a look at. Steps counted, calories burned, food intake and sleep monitoring. In addition to all those great features is the tracking that makes this device so popular with “The Biggest Loser”... real time workout tracking.

The armband connects to your smart device, either Android phone, iPhone or iPad, via Bluetooth and then works with a free app to communicate between the two. Setting everything up was super simple, and reconnecting the device during subsequent workouts was a snap. Once the armband is connected it starts feeding information such as your steps taken, and what type of activity you are doing — either moderate or vigorous. There are different types of workout goals you can set within the app too: caloric goals, time spent in vigorous activity, or total time lapsed, and once you reach these the app will notify you. There is also an open workout mode that allows you to simply log your efforts with no particular goal in mind. This has been the mode I’ve used most. It makes the most sense to me as the bike I use has its own time settings, and when I lift weights it is done in sets already so I don’t need a separate app to track that.

The device itself is made of an impact resistant plastic, and is contained in an elastic armband that is adjustable to fit any arm. It has a rechargeable battery that says it should last at least a few days before needing a recharge and so far that has been accurate. When you do need to charge it, or to sync your data with your computer, the device pops out of the armband and you plug it into your computer via mini-USB cable. There is a desktop application you need to download for your computer, available for PC or Mac, and it will detect when your armband is connected and automatically sync.

The way the device detects your activity is unique too. On the back of the device are two small plates of metal. Upon initial inspection my thought was their similarity to conductors... and that’s precisely what they are. The two metal plates detect the conduction between them and your skin and use fluctuations in your skin condition to determine your activity. There is also an accelerometer that detects the step movement, these combine to make it a pretty accurate device. In the step realm it remained on par with the FitBit, but I tend to take all of those readings with a grain of salt. However, the workout tracking seemed right on track, matching what I deemed in my head as vigorous and moderate.

All in all, the device is really awesome, and I love that I now have a way to log my workouts without having to try and choose what kind of information I want to enter. The long story short there is that it keeps me honest. It’s easy to go to the gym. Say you are going to get a one-hour workout in and then spend half that time stretching... or getting a drink...or stretching again... This way I can judge my workouts on the intensity of my workout rather than just total time spent at the gym.

What I’ve discovered myself doing is using my FitBit on a daily basis, it’s a little less intrusive for me because of the attire I wear for work, but I have really enjoyed using the BodyMedia armband during my workouts.

One other fitness element you should check out if you haven’t already is the rewards programs that is out there. BodyMedia, and FitBit, have worked to partner with various third parties to create rewards that you can earn based on your activity and use with the devices. The two I use are Earndit (www.earndit.com), and EveryMove (www.everymove.com). Once you sign up for the free account you link your device to your account. It will then sync your accounts with all the devices and give you reward points you can save and use for different prizes. They range in degree, everything from water bottles and tee-shirts, to subscription services to fitness websites, to Amazon gift cards. Depending on the value of the reward more points are needed to earn that reward. Check them out — having the added incentive of getting stuff for working out goes a long way to motivating me to get out the door.

IMHO

In light of having such a fitness focused column this week, I thought I’d offer you a really great summer recipe that my family enjoys as the weather warms up. Being Minnesota, we have an abundance of rhubarb, and everyone always thinks of the great cakes, crumbles and ice cream toppings... but a few years ago we decided that we wanted another way to enjoy it without all the sugar intake of dessert, and something that would be cooling during the warm summer months. The answer? Rhubarb Lemonade. The great thing is that there really isn’t a set recipe and everything can be adjusted to taste. So, here we go!

Phil’s Rhubarb Lemonade

Ingredients

Rhubarb — I imagine it’s about a pound — somewhere around two big handfuls of stalks

Lemons — 5 lbs

Sugar — to taste, start with a pound or so

Water — I usually end up with about 3 gallons of finished lemonade mix

You will also need a large, large, stock pot, and a clean dish cloth — the large ones.

Instructions:

Use a vegetable peeler to take the zest off your lemons, set aside zest in the dish cloth. Juice the lemons through a strainer into the stock pot. Chop the rhubarb into pieces about a half inch to an inch and place them in the dish cloth as well. Tie the dish cloth from the corners to make a gigantic pouch. Imagine a big tea bag. Tie that to one of the handles of the stock pot and then fill the stock pot with water. Heat the stock pot over medium heat and do no bring to a boil. Add the sugar as the water warms so it dissolves easier, and add more sugar as needed to suit your personal taste. Once the sugar has dissolved, continue heating the mixture, gently squeezing the dishcloth, until the rhubarb has become mushy and cooked through. Once that has happened, remove the dish cloth, carefully not to spill, and cool your lemonade. Depending on your tastes, and the amount of ingredients, you can use this as a concentrate and add additional water when you mix it up. I usually freeze it into quart size bags and use 1-2 to make 2 quarts of lemonade. For an added treat we crush a little fresh mint from our herb garden into it just before serving.

The best part about this is you can freeze it and enjoy refreshing, crisp, cool lemonade all summer long.

On a side note you don’t need to use a dish cloth, I used to just strain the mixture, but it took way too long and this is a fast way to get it ready. It also helps to cool it down by filling a sink with cold running water and letting that flow around the stock pot — this cools it down in a safe time and doesn’t dilute your mixture.

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