Health Tech Update

Health. Technology. Innovation.

Can “Big Mother” Help Your Posture?

Everyone knows that mobile apps are changing our world every day, particularly in the world of fitness apps.  Well a new crop of personal health technology is hitting that market.  These new products are combining dedicated hardware to work in tandem with a custom app to help you perform better.

One of the simple, yet powerful examples coming out is targeted at something a lot of us suffer from: poor posture.  I know that when I sit at the computer for an extended period of time I start to slouch.  The longer I set, the lower I slide into my chair.  This is where the LumoBACK device comes into the picture. The LUMOback is part of growing collection of wearable health technology that has the potential to be a realtime coach showing us how to enhance our performance. It also has the potential to spy on our every move. That’s how the slightly comical, slightly creepy “Big Mother” term came about.

This small band goes around your waist and watches your lower back posture. When you start to slouch, it gently vibrates to remind you to sit up straight. There’s also a companion app for your iPhone that shows a simple avatar of your posture as you stand, sit or walk. Using the app, you can see how adjusting your body can change you posture.

The end result of this realtime feedback is that you start to build new muscle memory throughout your day. We’ll be doing a full review of the LUMOback soon.

TechCrunch roundup of fitness gadgets for 2013

Basis Fitness Watch

Basis Fitness Watch

TechCrunch has a nice roundup of the latest crop of wearable fitness gadgets ready for 2013.  Included in the list of wearable health tech are:

In the fitness app category, they cover:

  • RunKeeper
  • Runtastic
  • Beeminder
  • Retrofit
  • MapMyFitness
  • Keas
  • Gympact
  • Cardiio
  • Azumio
  • Skimble
  • Fitocracy

You can read the full write up over at TechCrunch.

Long term review of the Withings Internet-connected smart scale

After using the Withings Internet connect scale for the past two years, I’ve found it to be a useful companion in my daily battle to maintain my weight.  There’s something about hopping on the scale and having it measure my weight and body fat %, and then calculate my BMI…all while I stand there looking down at my toes!

Automatically updated weight loss graph from Withings Scale

Automatically updated weight loss graph from Withings Scale

And the fact that it “automagically” uploads this to my online weight chart makes it even better.  Seeing where you’ve been seems to give me an extra boost to try to maintain my current weight.  Unlike the “out of sight, out of mind” way many of us treat our weight, I like seeing it laid out in a colorful graph.  If I’m starting to trend back up in weight, it makes me get a little more vigilant in controlling my portions at meal time.  It also gives me a bit more drive to stick to my morning run, even when I’m not in the mood.

You can read the full Withings wifi scale review here.

FitBit Ultra Smart Pedometer Long Term Review

FitBit Ultra

FitBit Ultra

Are you trying to exercise more and lose some weight.  Do you ever wonder just how much you walk on a given day?  A smart pedometer might be just what the doctor ordered!

I’ve been wearing a FitBit since it first came out in the fall of 2009.  Now I’m using their latest FitBit Ultra.  After trying multiple personal activity tracking tools (both dedicated devices like the FitBit) and applications running on smart phones, I can say that the FitBit is one of the best out there.  I’ve ended up giving these to friends as gifts because it’s such an addictively good product.

Here’s what makes the FitBit work for me:

          • Small size (once you clip it on you’ll probably forget that you’re wearing it)
          • 2 week battery life between charges (and only takes an hour or so to recharge)
          • Sleek design (I don’t mind wearing it to work, going out, etc.)
          • Built in display shows useful data
          • Wireless upload of my data
          • Free online tools (and iPhone app) let me track all my data.  Here’s a sample of what you can see online:

            FitBit Stats

            FitBit Stats (Click image to zoom)

          • You can invite your friends to compete with you for who takes the most steps.  I’ve got friends in multiple time zones (and on multiple continents!) all comparing daily and weekly step counts.  It’s one more little nudge to keep me moving!
          • Automatic restart every day at midnight (old pedometers had to be reset each day; if you forgot to reset it then you’d end up with the wrong count for the day which is discouraging)
          • You can wear it while sleeping (using the included wrist band) and it will tell you how well you’re sleeping.  It will track what time you got into bed (e.g. 10:14 PM) and what time you actually fell asleep (e.g. 10:15 PM when I’m really tired, or 11:21 PM when I stay up watching Leno).
          • It works!  When I wear the FitBit, I’m more aware of my activity level and I tend to take more steps.  I’m currently averaging about 12,000 steps a day, which I know is more than I’d be taking if I wasn’t wearing the FitBit
          • Reasonably priced ($99)

The FitBit has become such an integral part of keeping me activity level up that I wear it from the moment I wake up to when I go to bed (I use the sleep tracking feature only occasionally.)  When I wear it, I’m more active.  It’s that simple.

There isn’t much about the FitBit that I’d change.  A couple of nice enhancements would include:

          • Locking feature (sometimes I accidentally place it in sleep mode)
          • Locator beacon for times that I misplace the device

I’ll be reviewing the Nike+ FuelBand soon, but for now the FitBit Ultra is my favorite.

You can order the FitBit Ultra directly from FitBit via this link.

LifeSpan treadmill desk is a budget-friendly option

LifeSpan Treadmill Desk

LifeSpan Treadmill Desk

The LifeSpan treadmill desk seems to have found a nice niche in the increasingly popular world of treadmill desks.  Steelcase is the Cadillac of the industry with their Walkstation treadmill desk.  Unfortunately it comes with a Cadillac price as well ($4,399).  At the other end of the market is the TrekDesk, which is only $589, but it doesn’t come with a treadmill (it’s designed to straddle most treadmills).  The thinking is that you can buy your own inexpensive treadmill and save money.

Easy access treadmill controls

Easy access treadmill controls

Now there’s an option for someone who wants the convenience of an integrated treadmill desk, without paying almost $5,000 to Steelcase.  The LifeSpan treadmill desk retails for $1,999, but you can find it on Amazon for $1,299.  This treadmill desk has a nice control panel for adjusting the treadmill while at your desk (which is nice; it can be tough to reach the control on a standard treadmill when you have a laptop in front of you.)  It also has specifically designed trays for holding your computer cables.

If you haven’t tried a treadmill desk, you’re in for a pleasant surprise.  If you keep the speed slow (about 1 MPH) you can easily work on your computer, read, use the phone and do just about any normal office activity.  And at that speed, you don’t sweat and you don’t need any special shoes or gear.  It’s like getting free exercise while you work.  For me, it feels like I’m more focused and can concentrate better when using one.  And since you burn 100 calories per hour walking at this pace, it will help your waistline too!

Simple tripod mount and stand for iPhone 4s

Glif iPhone 4s Tripod Mount

Glif iPhone 4s Tripod Mount and Phone Stand

We are getting ready to film some side-by-side running videos of the Vibrams Fivefingers “shoes.”  They are very low tech, but they are a useful piece of health tech if you’re looking for a way to develop a more natural running form.  More on that later.

To get the right perspective for the video shoot, we needed an easy way to capture video from ground level.  We think we’ve found a simple solution: the Glif from StudioNeat.

Using this simple bracket for the iPhone 4s, we can easily use the phone to capture some ground level footage.  This is a well-designed piece of hardware that securely hooks your iPhone up to a tripod.  Plus it works as a simple stand for watching videos or doing FaceTime on the iPhone.

Glif iPhone 4s Stand

Glif iPhone 4s Stand

They also have a bundle that includes couple of add-ons that secure the Glif for angled (or even upside down) video shoots. 



Invisible screen protector for your iPhone 4s

Acase iPhone 4s Invisible Screen ProtectorOne of the most common places where health and tech meet up is at the gym.  Or the bike path.  Or for me, the running trail.  So we always try out the latest cases and screen protectors for our phones (which are usually working triple duty and serving as our music player and our GPS tracker).  To that end, we are currently testing the Acase screen protector for the iPhone 4 and 4s.

With some of the screen protectors tested in the past, we’ve encountered issues with bubbling and rainbow colors when viewed from an angle.  The best protectors are the ones are so unobtrusive that you don’t even notice they’re on your phone.  In once case the film protector on an old  iPhone 3G saved the phone from falling apart after a fall to the sidewalk during a run.  The screen cracked (it landed on the corner), but the shatter was small and stayed confined to one area.  The phone kept working and the touch screen seemed unaffected.   Stay tuned for more about how the Acase holds up in testing.

Best Bluetooth headphones for exercising?

Plantronics BackBeat 903+ Wireless Bluetooth Headset

Plantronics BackBeat 903+ Wireless Bluetooth Headset

We are about to do a test of the Plantronics BackBeat 903+ Headset.  A lot of people are looking for the best way to cut the cord to their headphones when working out.   I can’t even count the number of times I’ve knocked my headphones off while trying to look graceful getting off the treadmill…not a pretty sight!

After trying the Jawbone ICON HD (which works great for regular phone calls) on several runs and bike rides, I was pleased with the cordless experience, but let down by the low fidelity music listening experience.  It’s OK for listening to podcasts, but not great for music.   That brings us to stereo Bluetooth headphones like the BackBeat 903+.

With stereo speakers, on-device buttons for controlling volume and skipping tracks, and tighter integration with smart phones like the iPhone, this should be a great way to cover the miles of my morning run with a smile on my face.

Stay tuned for the full review!

Striiv Fitness Pedometer Review

Striiv smart pedometer

Striiv smart pedometer on attached to keychain

I’ve been testing a Striiv fitness pedometer for the past couple of months.  As mentioned in my Striiv First Look review from back in November, the Striiv is one of the new crop of fitness gadgets that try to make it more fun to add more activity into your daily routine.

Why the Striiv is better than using an app on your iPhone to track your exercise

Track your steps over time with Striiv

Track your steps over time with Striiv

Many have asked why I don’t just track my exercise using one of the free (or cheap) activity trackers available for smart phones like the iPhone or any of the Android phones.  The difference is ha avior change smart pedometer like the Striiv is on all the time, unlike an app on your iPhone that is only running for short periods of time (most pedometer or GPS apps running on a phone will wear your battery down too rapidly to use them all day).  This is a big difference.  It lets you track all the little things you do throughout the day, so you can try to get to a typical goal of 10,000 steps in a day.  And once you see your daily step count (and if you’re like most people, you’ll find it’s lower than you think), you’re more likely to walk a bit more.  I find myself looking down at my Striiv when I’m on the go and will often take the longer route to squeeze in some “free exercise.”  That’s healthy behavior change in action!

Striiv Pros (What I like about the Stiiv)

Games built into the Striiv make walking more fun

Games built into the Striiv make walking more fun


  • Bright, color screen
  • Large fonts for displaying step count (some pedometers have small displays that are hard to read on the go)
  • Touch screen
  • Accurately counts walking, running, and stair climbing (I compared it against two other accelerometer-based pedometers while walking and running and the step counts were within 1% of each other)
  • Audio and visual feedback throughout the day
  • “Games” make it fun to challenge yourself
  • Earn donations to charities by walking more
  • Fun, visual trophies earned for each milestone (e.g. “You have climbed 500 flights of stairs, which is the height that a typical helicopter flies!”)
  • Clever “keychain” option for carrying it around without thinking about it
  • Belt clip
  • View step history right on the device, eliminating the need to sync with a computer
  • Accurate step counter (compared to the FitBit, a competing “smart pedometer”)
  • Simple to set up

Striiv Cons (What I don’t like about the Striiv)

  • Design is a bit bigger than the FitBit
  • If placed in your pocket, it’s a bit bulky; the belt clip is a better option
  • No wireless data upload (you have to plug into your computer with a cable)
  • No community feedback or challenges from other users
  • Color screen means shorter battery life than the FitBit (I charge my Striiv every few days; I charge my FitBit Ultra every 2 weeks)
  • Touchscreen requires a firm touch and isn’t as responsive as you’re used to if you own an iPhone (but the Striiv also doesn’t cost hundreds of dollars!)
  • No sleep tracking feature (This isn’t a big deal, but some FitBit users really like the sleep tracking feature.)


I would recommend the Striiv for the following types of people:

  • People who are new to exercise and trying to get motivated to start moving more
  • People who always have their keys with them
  • Kids (the color screen and games emphasize entertainment)

If you are a more advanced fitness enthusiast, I would recommend a smaller, and more technical device like the FitBit Ultra, or perhaps the soon-to-be-re-released UP Band from Jawbone.

The Striiv is $99 at Amazon.

Here’s an overview video from Striiv that shows the device in action.

Bluetooth 4.0 support in iPhone 4S will help enable new wave of mobile health devices

Bluetooth Smart

Bluetooth Smart

The latest iPhone from Apple has a little-discussed capability called “Bluetooth Smart Ready”.  This is a new 4.0 version of the Bluetooth short range wireless technology that is designed for low power devices.  (If you’ve ever used a wireless mouse and keyboard, or a wireless cell phone headset you’ve probably been using Bluetooth.)  A Bluetooth Smart Ready device like the iPhone 4S can then communicate with this new generation of Bluetooth Smart devices that can run on tiny button-cell batteries and were created to collect only a specific piece of information.


Nordic Semiconductor Bluetooth 4.0 Heart Rate Monitor

Nordic Semiconductor Bluetooth 4.0 Heart Rate Monitor

We should be seeing a slew of new devices like heart rate monitors and pedometers using this new technology to wirelessly communicate with our smartphones in the coming months.