Beyond Wristbands: How New Fitness Tech Is Connecting Us Like Never Before

Beyond Wristbands: How New Fitness Tech Is Connecting Us Like Never Before

With every passing week, personal fitness technology seems to connect us to information in a new way. Real-time data extends well beyond your basic steps and provides ever-greater detail. Virtual coaching is up close and on the spot. And linking up with others who share your fitness goals is easier than ever. What’s also clear: Fitness wearables and apps show no signs of slowing down. We’ve tracked down the latest and greatest to see how they’re changing the way we live.

New Year’s resolution season is here, with millions of people taking to the gym and hitting the trails to start or renew their commitment to fitness. This year, a record number of people will be chasing their goals with the help of wearable technology: The American College of Sports Medicine’s 11th annual global survey of more than 1,800 health and fitness professionals pegs wearables as the top fitness trend for 2017.

Without a doubt, fitness wearables and apps are changing the way we function. And they’ve come a long way from the original belt-clipped Fitbit, a hot holiday gift when it debuted in 2009. We got a close-up look at the latest developments at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas January 5–8. Here’s a peek at how these wearables and apps are connecting users with more and better data about themselves — and connecting users with one another, too.

Fitness tracking from head to toe

Wearables aren’t just for wrists anymore. For example, Valencell has created biometric technology that enables earbuds to track heart rate, maximum oxygen intake, energy expenditure, blood pressure and more — and then share that information with coaches and trainers. Watch for it this year in “hearables” by Jabra, Samsung and others that will incorporate responsive, real-time audio coaching.

The WELT, brainchild of a Samsung spinoff, looks like an ordinary belt but keeps tabs on your waist size, tracks your steps, tells you how long you’ve spent sitting down and monitors eating patterns. It then uses your data to create a customized health and weight-loss plan through its companion app. The first WELTs, funded by a Kickstarter campaign, will ship early next year.

GOQii takes it all a step farther by connecting you with certified nutritionists, personal trainers and life coaches that help analyze the data from your fitness tracker. GOQii also integrates with popular wearables from Fitbit, Garmin, Strava, Jawbone, Google and Apple.

Another early 2017 innovation to watch for, which we first reported on in the 2016 Access 25: Google is expected to release its Jacquard technology to developers, enabling a new generation of “connected clothing” made with fabric woven from conductive yarn and trim that contains connectors and circuits. The fabric captures touches and gestures that are transmitted to smartphones and other devices. One of the first products to use Jacquard is an urban cycling jacket by Levi’s, available in spring.

More Than Cardio

Cardio is crucial to fitness, but true wellness is about much more than heart health. The ZIKTO Walk wristband uses advanced motion sensing to analyze your walking posture and pace, and coach you in real time. It’ll even alert you when you’ve spent too long looking at your phone in a position that can strain your neck and upper back.

lumo lift

Lumo Lift wearable posture coach

The Lumo Lift wearable posture coach attaches to your shirt with a magnet and helps you sit and stand taller by vibrating gently whenever you slouch. And the Spire “mindfulness tracker” clips to your waistband and monitors your breathing patterns to see whether you’re tense, focused or calm — then provides directions via its app to alleviate anxiety or pain, reduce blood pressure and more.

Connecting Us With One Another

The Pokémon Go phenomenon illustrated the power of gaming to get people off the couch and engaging in friendly competition. Sqord, aimed at kids and families, is “one part social media, one part game platform, and one part fitness tracker,” inspiring group activity and connecting kids both virtually and in real life. An independent study showed that inactive kids increased their activity levels by 55 percent when they started using Sqord.

For grownups, the Strava app has created a community of millions of fitness enthusiasts who use Garmin wearables (as well as iPhones and Android phones) to track their running and cycling. Strava users can join challenges, share photos from their workouts, compete with friends and encourage one another with comments and congrats.

A Connected World Is a Better World

Fitness tracking can now contribute to a greater good, too. The largest and most well-known app that lets you convert your fitness activity to non-profit funding is Charity Miles, which acts as a walk/run/bike-a-thon, with corporate sponsors donating money for each mile you track to your choice of 30-plus charities.

Unicef’s Wearables for Good campaign, launched in 2015, set out to demonstrate how wearable technology can be used to solve some of the most pressing challenges facing children. One finalist that went to launch in 2016 is Soapen. Soapen is a wearable and portable soap re-designed to encourage hand washing among young children to reduce risk of catching and spreading disease. Another is Khushi Baby — a digital necklace that makes medical history wearable to monitor the healthcare of mothers and children.

From Health Tracking to True Healthcare

fitbit

Fitbit Blaze fitness watch

With a 71 percent share of the wearable fitness device market, Fitbit is still the 800-pound gorilla of the industry (and that’s one heck of a BMI). In 2016, the company introduced the Blaze fitness watch and the Alta activity tracker, but it’s also looking to become a platform to connect users with deeper dives into their health data. Founder James Park told TIME last year that he envisions the company’s “next big leap” as a move into wearables, such as blood glucose meters, that collect and analyze data to help customers make health decisions. “There’s no cool blood glucose meters,” he said. Not yet, anyway.


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