Gadgets that can help you get fit
Here we continue our feature on fitness gadgets with smartphone and tablet apps, plus console games.
Fitness gadgets: apps and accessories
If you have a smartphone, particularly an iPhone or Android handset, there are plenty of apps on offer which can turn it into an activity tracker. Some are designed for specific activities, such as running or cycling, while others are more generic.
Yet others can help with fitness in other ways, such as letting you log your food and drink. For some people, this is the most effective way to lose weight. It can be the simple fact of seeing how much you eat that helps you to cut down, or change your eating habits.
We've already mentioned MyFitnessPal, which is available for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone smartphones. This can synchronise with Fitbit, Scosche, Runtastic, Withings and other apps making it easier to keep diet and exercise tracking in one place.
You set a calorie goal and then add the food and drink you eat throughout each day. Chances are you won't have to add much manually, and if you tend to eat the same things it's fast to add items from the 'recent' list.
Apps like MyFitnessPal can help you see exactly how many calories you're consuming (and how many you're burning through exercise) and can help you to lose weight by either changing how much (or what) you eat or showing you how much exercise you need to do to offset those calories.
Another example of a fitness app is Runtastic. Although primarily for runners, it's also good for tracking your cycle rides, since it uses your phone's GPS to record your route. Such apps will drain your battery fairly quickly, but it may work out cheaper than buying a separate GPS device, since the apps are either free or a couple of pounds, and an external USB battery can prolong or recharge your phone for £10 to £20. You can even pair Runtastic with a Runtastic-branded Bluetooth heart rate monitor for £70 to get a more accurate assessment of how intensely you exercised.
Or, you might consider the Beurer PM200+ runner's kit which includes a heart rate monitor, receiver (which plugs into your phone's headphone socket) and armband to hold the phone and receiver. The kit allows you to track elapsed time, distance, calories burned, speed, elevation, heart rate. This kit works with iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7 and BlackBerry, and costs £80 from Argos.
An alternative to Runtastic, if you have an iPhone 4S or 5, is Polar Beat. The heart rate monitor costs around £60.
Both apps can give you vocal feedback or guidance, and Runtastic lets you set a 'power song' which you can activate when you need a boost.
Unless you can pop your phone in a convenient pocket or backpack, you'll need to budget for an armband or bike mount as well.
Of course, there are many other apps available for iOS or Android (and in some cases BlackBerry and Windows Phone). You might want to investigate MapMyRun, SmartRunner, Nike+ GPS, Adidas MiCoach and Endomondo. With Bike Hub and CycleStreets you can use your phone as a cycle satnav and if you have a Symbian device, check out Sports Tracker.
You can also put your smartphone (or tablet) to use as a virtual reality trainer and make indoor sessions more fun. Kinomap is a relatively new app which works with exercise bikes, treadmills and rowing machines. It features user-captured video, which is geolocated, so that you can virtually ride, row or run the course and see your progress on a map.
The app needs specialist hardware - it won't work with any old gym equipment - and also requires you to pay a monthly subscription to access the videos. However, if you're willing to invest and can output the video to a big TV, it can be a great way to get fit during winter before the weather improves.
Fitness gadgets: games consoles
Games consoles can also be used to improve your fitness. The Nintendo Wii cornered the market years ago with Wii Fit, an exercise game which requires the Wii Balance Board to work. If you already own a Wii, the game and Balance Board can cost as little as £50 these days, but you might be disappointed that the exercises lack intensity.
The same can't be said about the new Nike+ Kinect Training 'game' for the Xbox 360. As the title implies, you need a Kinect for it to work, so the overall package is more expensive.
However, it's well worth it since Nike+ Kinect is effectively a personal trainer that gives you a customised workout regime based on your current fitness and your goal (lose weight, get toned or get strong). You do an initial set of exercises so the trainer can see in which areas you're strong and others which need improvement, such as balance or endurance.
The Kinect integration is ingenious as it uses the camera to monitor your movements. The virtual trainer can then guide you to carry out the exercises (down to instructions such as "make sure you keep your heels off the floor") and warn you if you're doing an exercise incorrectly. It's so accurate that it will only count reps when you're doing them properly, and the voice guidance means you don't need to look at the TV.
There's also a companion app for the iPhone that lets you keep track of your progress through a programme, will remind you when your next session is coming up and let you compete with friends.
If there's one disadvantage, it's that you need quite a bit of room as some exercises require you to stand or move to certain positions on the floor. In most lounges, you'll need to move furniture out of the way to clear at least a 7x7ft square.
There are plenty of other Kinect games which fall into the exercise category, albeit in a much less serious way. Kinect Sports will get you moving, as will Kinect Adventures (which comes with the Kinect sensor) and the Dance Central and Just Dance series. There are also a couple of Zumba titles.