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Gym of future may be no gym at all

Chicago Tribune

The endless stream of new wearable technology at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show tells us one thing: We are our own worst enemies, and we need technology to keep us in line.

Rings that dim lights and lock doors with preprogrammed hand gestures. Bike pedals that track GPS without batteries. Watches that sense stress. Bluetooth-capable toothbrushes that tell users when they’re brushing too hard. The meld of everyday activities and technology that grabbed hold of the tech trade show two years ago hasn’t loosened its grip. It’s clear that we need to be tagged, tracked and nagged more than ever.

We say bring it on. That nagging is the only thing that’s going to keep us honest.

Unlike cellphones and laptops, wearable technology puts the focus back on the body. With minimal effort, we can see how many steps we really take in a day or find out if that 4-mile run really is 4 miles.

The gym of the future is no gym at all. It’s a Fitbit Flex, an iPhone app and a pair of gym shoes.

Humans love to fail — we will lie to ourselves and set unattainable goals. The Journal of Clinical Psychology found that nearly half of all Americans set New Year’s resolutions, but only a tenth of those people actually meet their goals.

So we need something to give us an annoying reminder to move. Think of the body like a car. Drivers keep an eye on how fast the car is going, how far it’s gone, how much fuel it has. Why wouldn’t they do the same for their bodies?

Two age groups in particular are latching on to this technology: the 25- to 34-year-olds, who use the devices to optimize their fitness goals, and middle-aged huffers and puffers eager to extend their lives, according to a 2014 study by Endeavour Partners. Wearables also have the potential to help those of any age who are at risk of diabetes or other weight-related diseases. All of us, that is, who need a reminder to move more often and watch our waistlines.

Still, the gadgets have critics: Julia Belluz, a Vox health reporter, argues that tape measures and scales never “spurred behavior change or reversed the trajectory of the obesity crisis in America,” so neither will heart-monitoring wristwatches or step-counting necklaces.

But there’s one essential difference: Tape measures don’t buzz, ring or flash on your wrist — nudging you, maybe aggravating you, but educating you about your health in real time. That’s why wearables make many other fitness aids obsolete.

No, a Nike Fuelband itself won’t make you healthier. It’s just another tool to aid in good decision-making. It provides a mirror for people to hold up and see the reality of their lives.

Then little habit changes — taking stairs, getting up from the desk more often — can make a big difference. Then there’s the communal angle: Wearable technology measures your big and small moments and also encourages healthy competition by sharing your milestones with friends and family.

And if it feels like you’re wearing your mother-in-law on your wrist at times — good. You’re doing it right.

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