OMETHING WAS BEEPING.
It could have been the watch I was wearing, which measured heart rate, logged calories and had a backlit face that could turn on - and beep - when I raised my arm. Or maybe it was the gadget on my waistband that counted calories burned and beeped as each one was consumed.
I wasn't sure which kept beeping, because I was hanging wall paper and the beep sounded when I wasn't looking at them. I'd tried to turn off the beeping, but either I hadn't done it right, or I kept inadvertently turning it back on. A little annoyed, I took them both off and put them across the room, in a shoe for safekeeping, and got back to work.
A few seconds later, from the other side of the room, inside the shoe: "Beep!"
So it went over the past couple of months as I tried to evaluate eight devices that help track fitness or diet. Sometimes it felt more like an exercise in technological prowess and perseverance. Eventually, after several tech-support calls, three equipment replacements, a few battery changes and a renewed intimacy with my computer's serial port, all worked pretty much as promised. In brief, my impressions:
Physical Genius Fitness Trainer software, I planned meals and exercise and uploaded workouts into Digital Training Assistant. The DTA guided me through, for example, a strength-training session, displaying exercises and relevant details: sets, weight, repetitions, seat position, bench incline. My favorite feature was - surprisingly - a beep, which helped me stick to my chosen "up" and "down" cadence (two seconds up, four seconds down). I could input changes in repetitions or weights and download for analysis. With a Polar chest strap the DTA also could monitor my heart rate. Its roughly 3-by-4-inch, triangle shape was comfortable if a tad large for me, but could be operated with just one hand. ($169; 877-850-8786 or
Vivonic Fitness Planner also combines desktop software with a handheld, this one just 2 3/4 by 3 1/2 inches. It looks and works like a downsized Palm personal digital assistant, with a stylus for touch-screen selections. In addition to letting me input meals and exercise, it can serve as a pedometer, using a holster clip. I liked the simple, all-in-one screen, even if it can be a little hard to read. ($199; local sources include Fast Lady Sports, The Fitness Shop, Oshman's Super Store, Super Jock 'n Jill; software only for Palm, $49;
ExerLog and DietLog (not shown) are two other options for Palm and Handspring owners. ExerLog tracks energy output not only from workouts but everyday activities such as sleeping, washing the dishes and desk work. DietLog keeps track of foods consumed and shows food values with a handy screen that looks like the "Nutrition Facts" labels on foods.
Both use simple bar graphs for easy-to-follow progress toward daily or weekly diet or exercise goals. Best of all, since the software is downloaded and installed on existing hardware, it requires no additional cables or connections. ($49.99 for both plus WeightLog; 800-345-4207;
Mio looks and acts like a watch, with time, chronograph, lap timer, alarm and chime. But it also measures heart rate (without a chest strap), calculates percent of maximum and keeps a running tally of calories consumed and burned. Set-up was a bit involved and heart-rate checks - initiated by pressing one sensor button and covering another, which I found a slightly awkward - didn't always yield a number. I needed to know the calories of what I'd eaten to input those numbers; a tiny "MioSense" booklet was helpful but difficult to read and not always nearby. The booklet has a special section for cardiac patients. ($199; 877-566-4636;
www.gophysical.com; local sources include Athletic Supply, Fast Lady Sports and GI Joe.)
NutriGuide tracks eight nutritional values for more than 8,000 foods, as well as percent of calories from fat, protein and carbohydrates and the six diabetic/dietary exchanges. It comes in a vinyl 4 1/2-by-7-inch case with an accompanying book, since foods are input using codes from the book. I could add only another 40 foods not in its database, however. ($149.95 at Sharper Image; 800-344-5555;
BioTrainer is 2-by-3-inch monitor that clips on the waistband. I input my weight and it counted, by means of an accelerometer, calories burned throughout the day. In feedback mode it beeped each time a calorie was burned, which was further motivating, though I sometimes bumped a button and switched to "feedback" mode. The BioTrainer connects to simple software for downloading up to a week's worth of data and track progress. ($59.95; 888-513-5960;
After all this testing, I think my favorite item was the lowest-tech: the 1 1/2-by-2-inch
Digiwalker. ($25-$35; 425-255-3817 or 877-255-0878; www.exercisexpress.com.) Taking off from research suggesting that 10,000 steps daily equates to "moderate activity," which is recommended for good health, it's a simple tool that needed only be clipped on my waistband to start counting. (A second model calculates distance based on stride length; a third also calculates calories burned based on body weight). It quickly confirmed what I already knew, deep down: Despite 40 minutes of walking to and from work, my days are mostly sedentary. The 10,000 figure may be too much for some folks to begin with, and the Digiwalker doesn't account for other activities. But it is simple and motivating, and helped me get on that treadmill to put in a just a little more time.
And, it didn't beep.