Technology turns your health into a game

Technology turns your health into a game
Seattle resident David Devine shows off his is Nike FueldBand while at his office.
SEATTLE -- When the clock struck 12 and the calendar officially flipped to 2013, David Devine, a 35-year-old marketing director from Seattle, resolved to drop a few pant sizes.

It's a familiar story with a new twist.

While so many of us try to lose weight in the new year, Devine decided to invest in Nike's FuelBand, a digital device that would track his physical activity throughout the day and hopefully encourage him to spend less time in his chair and more time climbing stairs.

"I feel like if I don't track it I'm not going to do it," Devine said.

Digital devices like the FuelBand, Jawbone's UP and FitBit's Flex (to be released this spring) are all gaining popularity among the tech-savvy who are also health-conscious. These bracelets have built in sensors that record data - such as steps taken or calories burned - and display it in a mobile app. But technology experts are wondering whether we should be sharing such personal information about our health and fitness.

Devine says he's become more active since he started wearing the FuelBand two weeks ago.

"The cool thing about it is I'm aware," Devine said. "I try to get as close as I can to my goal and I try to always stay above my average. I get my butt up and get on treadmill, or lift weights."

Bellevue fitness coach Debbie Smith-Potts just got Jawbone's UP and recommends devices like these, which cost between $100 and $150, to all of her clients.

"People who work at a desk job all day may not realize how much they're sitting," Smith-Potts said. "This can help people be more active."

Smith-Potts believes trainers will be able to use these devices to keep tabs on their clients.

"We need people to move every hour," she said. "If we have a device that can show if you're moving enough that would be great."

Some of these devices also track the user's sleep, showing how long they are in bed and the quality of their sleep. Smith-Potts says getting enough deep sleep is important for people trying to lose weight.

Users like Devine love these devices for their simplicity. Although he's tried using other digital devices in the past, Devine says he's more likely to stick with the FuelBand because it doesn't require him to do anything after he puts it on in the morning. He also appreciates that he can wear the bracelet anywhere, unlike the GPS chip he used to keep in his running shoe.

"I wear it everywhere," Devine said. "I walk a lot at work and I want to be able to track that stuff."

The apps associated with these devices can also send the user tips and congratulatory videos when they meet their goals.

"It's like a toy," Smith-Potts said. "It just makes it more fun."

Users can easily upload their fitness accomplishments on social networks like Facebook with these apps. Devine has a fierce competition going with his online friends who also have FuelBands.

"I don't think I'd be as engaged if it wasn't competitive," Devine said. "You don't get that in your normal exercise routine."

But this exposure of personal information is causing some technology experts to pause. Hanson Hosein, director of the University of Washington's Master of Communication in Digital Media program, believes that these devices can be a great motivational tool, but that users should consider how much personal information they are sharing - especially when it comes to their bodies and their health.

"Who's getting that data and what are they doing with it?" Hosein said. "As consumers we have been very happy to surrender our privacy."

Hosein wonders if a user posting their heart rate on Facebook could later be contacted by their life insurance company or markers from a drug company.

"Up to now we've be very careless," Hosein said. "We really need to have some kind of declaration that the data we produce belongs to us and we determine who has access to it. This is serious. This is our personal health."

But Hosein also predicts this kind of technology could take pressure off our country's health care system.

"You don't necessarily need a doctor for everything if you can capture data and conditions in real time," Hosein said.

Overall, Hosein says this is just the tip of the iceberg. He believes sensors will continue to be integrated into common objects so that one day our toothbrushes will tell us which teeth we missed and our refrigerators will count our calories.

"It's very doable now because of smart phone and sensors," Hosein says. "All of the sudden your everyday life is imminently capture-able and can be thrust back in your face."