BodyMedia FIT Armband

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I’ve been using the BodyMedia FIT armband for the past 3 months and it is the only diet and exercise system that I’ve found that really works. The system works through the use of an armband that you wear on your left arm throughout the day. As you go about your regular routine the armband measures your caloric burn. The armband uses four sensors to track over 9,000 variables from heat to sweat to steps to calories burned every minute of every day.

You can track your daily burn and steps taken through an optional display, but the real power is in syncing the armband to the BodyMedia web site which allows you to see charts of calories burned per minute, steps taken, exercise levels, sleep cycles, etc. You can also track your weight measurements in the tool. The great thing about the online tools is that it lets you enter your daily caloric intake (just search for a food and add it to a meal), and compares your incoming calories to outgoing calories. By entering your calories on a daily basis you can ensure a realistic caloric deficit which is guaranteed to help you lose weight safely. It’s very helpful for making sure you don’t starve yourself by eating too little, or conversely, that you don’t go crazy and eat too much.

Since I started using the armband I’ve dropped 20 pounds that I’ve managed to keep off with almost no trouble. It’s become pretty simple for me. I can eat a healthy but normal breakfast and lunch, then I check my calorie burn before dinner and make sure to eat the appropriate amount to ensure I maintain my target calorie deficit.

What I love about this tool is that it eliminates estimation. Everyone has different basal metabolic rates depending on what they do during the day. Whereas most diet systems target a fixed number of daily calories, those fixed amounts could mean anywhere from a 500-2500 calorie deficit depending on the person. Anyone who’s dieted knows that when you get into high calorie deficits you’re body stops losing and you go into the so called starvation mode where your body actually holds onto the weight. With this that never happens. If I have a lazy day at work and am on target to burn 3200 calories then I know I can eat 2200 and maintain my 1000 calorie deficit. But say, I go for a long run on the weekend and do some yard work I could get up to 5500 calories burned. If I stuck with a 2200 calorie diet, my body (and my willpower) would rebel. However with BodyMedia, I know that on those 5500 calorie days I can eat 2000 more calories and still be on target for weight loss.

Long story short – I absolutely love this system.

-- Marc Ryan  

[Note: There is an even more thorough review of the system over at Ars Technica.-- OH]

BodyMedia Fit System
$150 (includes 12 month subscription to the BodyMedia site)

Available from Costco
Manufactured by BodyMedia



Kettlebells

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Kettlebells are used for exercise and training. They look like a cannonball with a handle, come from Russia, and provide a great workout focused on whole-body exercise (rather than muscle isolation), with great benefits for strength, cardio, stamina, and flexibility. Unlike regular weights, the kettlebell’s center of mass is extended away from the hand which is optimized for a variety of different movements including swinging.

I specifically like exercises that work the entire body. The kettlebell does that and allows a continuous routine of various exercises without having to stop and change equipment. Moreover, you can do quite fine with a single kettlebel. You can start with a 1-pood (16.6 kg, or 35 lb) or lighter kettlebell and for many that will be enough. These weights take up little room, will not break down or wear out, and require no batteries.

-- Michael Ham  

[The founders of Cross Fit have published a useful guide for proper kettlebell swinging form.-- OH]

J FIT Cast Iron Kettlebell
$54 (30 lbs)

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by JFIT



 

f.lux

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f.lux is a free piece of software that slowly shifts the color temperature of your computer monitor throughout the day in order to adapt it to the natural rhythm of light. I first downloaded it after reading about Seth Robert’s self-experimentation involving sleep. As Roberts points out, research indicates that certain color temperatures stimulate wakefulness and affect circadian rhythms. This is why people with Seasonal Affective Disorder use blue light devices that supposedly mimic the blue sky of summer. By using f.lux to shift the temperature of a computer monitor away from blue light and towards red after natural light has faded the idea is that it will diminish the unintended wakefulness caused by the screen and allow for a more restful sleep.

While I am not as careful a self-experimenter as Seth Roberts, I have noticed that when I use f.lux not only do I get sleepier sooner but that I also awake earlier. By simply disabling the program for an hour (an option that is built into the software) I also notice an immediate sense of renewed wakefulness. The shift in color temperature is significant and immediately noticeable when I use my computer at night, but not in a way that negatively impacts the quality of the image on screen (and when it does, or if I need to edit photos, I simply disable it).

The program is available for Mac OS X and Windows XP/Vista/7. A similar program called Redshift is available for Linux users.

-- Oliver Hulland  

f.lux
Free

Available from f.lux Produced by stereopsis



Mueller Knee Straps

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I first discovered Mueller Knee Straps after I experienced significant knee pain following a tough 18-mile training run. With only a month left to go before completing my first marathon, full rest and recovery were not options. I had to keep going! A friend who had experienced similar pain to the lower kneecap (patellar tendonitis) recommended Mueller Knee Straps.

The strap itself is simple: it is made of a neoprene-like fabric that wraps around the lower knee and affixes to itself with Velcro. In the portion of the strap that sits below the knee there is a rubber tube that helps to hold pressure below the patella.

Patellar tendonitis occurs when there is a partial tear in the ligament at the base of the kneecap. The idea behind knee straps, also known as patellar straps, is to support and apply pressure to the tendon just below the kneecap. This pressure helps to reduce impact vibrations, improve tracking, and relieve pain.

Compared with other straps on the market, the Mueller Knee Straps tighten well around my knees without causing irritation. I can get a full range of motion while running without chafing or pinching thanks to the soft padded Velcro straps and the tubing around the patella. Like any injury, in addition to this quick fix, runners with patellar tendonitis must rest and stretch to heal. But with a race on the horizon the Mueller Knee Straps provided relief from pain and even a semblance of comfort while running the 26.2 miles.

-- Kristyna Solawetz  

Mueller Jumper’s Knee Strap
$5 for one

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Mueller Sports Medicine



Treat Your Own Neck

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Treat Your Own Neck saved my neck! The book is very thin but packed with the info you need to treat your neck pain. The author clearly explains the physiology of the neck, and describes specific exercises to treat specific types of neck pain/injury. The exercises are simple, but not intuitive.

About a year ago I got a bulged disc in my neck. This had never happened before, and I had no idea what was going on. I had very limited movement and what movement I had was very painful. At first, I thought it was just a sore or stiff neck from an awkward bike riding position, or a slight workout injury. As it progressively worsened over the next couple of weeks I started to realize this was more serious. A visit to my MD and a referral to a neurologist confirmed the bulged disc diagnosis. What was their advice for me? Basically a shrug, and they said, “Sometimes it goes away, sometimes you just have to live with it.” They offered me some muscle relaxants. I couldn’t believe that was all modern medicine had to offer.

I was a little panicked, to be honest. I wasn’t really interested in being partially disabled. I remembered a couple of friends who’d experienced debilitating back problems. They both solved their own issues using some exercises out of book. I figured maybe there was something in there for me, too. Turns out the author, Robin McKenzie, wrote a book for backs, AND a book for necks!

Personally, I’d never have figured this out on my own. By following the exercises in the book my neck pain was reduced the first day, and eliminated within two weeks. For my particular symptoms, the book provided just one specific exercise, and suggested some postural changes while sitting and sleeping. Though my bulged disc is gone, I continue to use this exercise whenever I have a stiff or sore neck (bad posture at work, or long drives), and continue to find immediate relief.

The book is the price of an insurance co-payment and, for me at least, worth many times what I paid.

-- Brendon Connelly  

Treat Your Own Neck
Robin McKenzie
2006, 46 pages
$10

Available from Amazon

[Note: Robin McKenzie has also written a well regarded manual for back pain called Treat Your Own Back that can be found here. -- OH]



Surefoot Foot Rubz

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The Surefoot Foot Rubz is a massaging ball that has given me relief from aching feet caused by Ballroom dance lessons. You massage your feet by gently rolling the knobby ball under them. You can apply as much pressure as necessary. It is much more effective than the wooden foot rollers I’ve tried in the past. Best $ I’ve ever spent for relief of tired and achy feet.

-- John B.  

Surefoot Foot Rubz
$11

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Sure Foot



Stretching

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I haven’t encountered any source on this subject as broad, accessible, and easily applied as Bob Anderson’s classic Stretching, a patient and friendly stand-in for my eight-grade P.E. teacher.

The 30th anniversary edition of this guidebook came out recently, with even more stretches and illustrations, and it’s easily the most comprehensive work on the subject. I love the activity-specific sections: cyclists, for instance, are shown stretches that not only address the muscle groups made tight and tense by our specific sport, but the stretches geared toward bike riders even include a bicycle to be utilized as a support. Activities from weightlifting to computer using get their own sections, too.

Organizationally, Stretching shines. Tight neck? Rigid shoulders? Thumb through to your prescribed routine and get to work. With minimal flexibility but a willingness to make an effort, almost anyone can use this book to become more limber, healthier.

-- Elon Schoenholz  

Stretching: 30th Anniversary Revised Edition
By Bob Anderson, illustrations by Jean Anderson
2010, 240 pages
$12

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Stretching feels good when done correctly. You do not have to push the limits or attempt to go further each day. It should not be a personal contest to see how far you can stretch. Stretching should be tailored to your particular muscular structure, flexibility, and varying tension levels. The key is regularity and relaxation. The object is to reduce muscular tension, thereby promoting freer movement—not to concentrate on attaining extreme flexibility, which often leads to overstretching and injury.

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Who Should Stretch?
Everyone can learn to stretch, regardless of age or flexibility. You do not need to be in top physical condition or have specific athletic skills. Whether you sit at a desk all day, dig ditches, do housework, stand at an assembly line, drive a truck or exercise regularly, the same techniques of stretching apply….if you are healthy, without any specific physical problems, you can learn how to stretch safely and enjoyably.

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Why Stretch?
- Reduce muscle tension and make the body feel more relaxed
- Help coordination by allowing for freer and easier movement
- Make strenuous activities like running, skiing, tennis, swimming, and cycling easier because it prepares you for activity; it’s a way of signaling the muscles that they are about to be used.

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TUSA Hyperdry Snorkel

I just bought a new snorkel after 20 years of use on my prior purchase. I chose the TUSA SP-170 first for comfort of the mouthpiece and bore width of the tube. Next, I evaluated how water drains from the tube. The purge valve under the mouthpiece is covered, so stray sand or kelp will not block it open and let water in, a problem I’d had with older snorkels.

At the top of the snorkel tube, TUSA’s Hyperdry System creates a separate pathway for water to eject, making for quicker clearing of the airway for my next breath. Other brands do have similar configurations and differ only slightly from the TUSA design. What hooked me on the TUSA is its Comfort Swivel, which allows me to change the angle of the snorkel without messing with the mask strap. It also has two parts that can disconnect as a quick-release to get the snorkel off the mask quickly. Using the old snorkel keeper strap was always a hassle for me.

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Snorkels are a very personal choice, and the number of features surprise people who have never purchased one at a dive shop. Some stores won’t allow you to put the mouthpiece in your mouth. If you can’t judge the size/fit, try to see if they rent the model you are interested in. Usually an experienced salesman can judge the size well and you can go by his suggestion.

I’m very happy with this choice, and have found it to meet all of my needs either in surf, open ocean or pool conditions.

-- Opher Banarie  

TUSA Snorkel SP-170 Platina II Hyperdry
$40

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by TUSA



StressEraser

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This small unit measures the effects of breathing on the parasympathetic system in order to help you feel calm and relaxed. My doctor actually prescribed it for me. The results are subtle but pretty amazing. My major successes have been trying to get to sleep at night. I fire up the small playing-card-pack-size box, which runs on two AAA batteries. Then I insert my finger into the trap door on the top left and begin working to control my breathing pattern. If you haven’t used it in a while, it coaxes you to reset date and time. Then it begins with a straight line…. and you begin to breath. What the manual recommends is that you breath in through the nose and then exhale from your mouth. What’s different from some other meditation and yoga methods is the StressEraser doesn’t want you to count on the inhale, but just to breathe in as deeply as you can. On the exhale you should do it slowly with a count to three, four, or five. The idea is to create a curving graph of regularity that can be worth 1 or 3 points on the device. A meditation session can total as many points as you want. Usually I shoot for 30. It takes a while to get into the rhythm of deeply breathing in and then slowly breathing out with a pause at each end point. It takes me about 15 – 20 minutes to get into the pattern and then complete the breathing session. When I finish, I don’t feel much different. But when I climb into bed I find it amazingly easy to fall and stay asleep. It’s not cheap, but I paid $200 for a returned model at Sharper Image. My friend gave one to her father, who uses it after watching the evening news. She says it’s worked well form him, too.

-- George Brett  

StressEraser
$142

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Helicor, Inc.



Sleeptracker Pro

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As a frequent traveler and someone who has a hard time sleeping in strange hotels, I live with a recipe for many sleepless nights. Seems like the alarm always goes off just when I have just fallen asleep. To help me get a good read on my sleep patterns and to get more restful sleep, I bought the Sleeptracker Pro, a wrist watch that monitors your sleep cycle from barely asleep to REM by tracking a succession of small bodily movements. You set the alarm for, say, 6:30 am and specify a window of time around that (normally I do 15 minutes on either end of my desired wake up time). Within that window, the watch finds the point at which I’m most awake and wakes me then, as opposed to when I’m out silly. I started using mine about 10 months ago and had success as soon as I first put it to use on a business trip. I’d tried using one of those gentle wake up alarm clocks before, but it was more like an airhorn. The Sleeptracker is far more effective (it cab be set to beep or vibrate), plus it’s on your wrist so you don’t have to remember to pack it. The set up was simple, too. I now find the watch especially useful for when I am traveling across time zones, since it helps me get a more restful sleep. The watch also monitors your sleep pattern over time and you can download the data to your PC to see the trends, which helps to spec out the optimal window you’ll need to wake up.

-- Dan Tushinski  

Sleeptracker Pro
$170
Manufactured by Innovative Sleep Solutions

Available from Amazon