The 3-D accelerometer has transformed mobile gaming (hello, iPhone), console gaming (thanks, Wii!), and now...fitness? The tech that accurately measures your movements has birthed a new generation of health monitors that track your daily activity and present it through a data-rich Web site. The big question: Can all that data be translated into a healthier lifestyle? I signed up with a group of Fast Company coworkers to test-drive one such device created by Philips; it's called DirectLife.
Philips is marketing the DirectLife device primarily to companies, which may be eager to front the initial costs of the program in exchange for healthier employees and thus lower health-care costs. But the device is also being sold directly to consumers. It costs $99, plus $10/month for access to the Web site and coaching after the initial 12-week program.
The device: The DirectLife monitor is housed in a slim, sleek square of white plastic can be worn around your neck, in your pocket, or in a customized belt pouch. And no need to be delicate: Philips tested DirectLife by running it through the washing machine and driving automobiles on top of it, so it can follow you into the pool or shower.
My take: The first three days of wearing DirectLife in my pockets, I marveled aloud at how awesome it is—So light! So slim! So barely detectable!—until the evening of the third day, when I realized it was no longer resting in my shallow pockets (oops). Now nervous about losing my replacement device, I wear it as a necklace, enduring a day's worth of cocked eyebrows and questions before I slipped the device under my shirt, where it dangles like an external pacemaker.
The plan: Participants wear DirectLife for an eight-day assessment period, then sync it to the Web site to learn their average daily caloric burn and their weekly and 12-week goals. They can compare activity with other users and coworkers (as a percentage of each person's goals) for added competition motivation.
My take: I'm told to act natural during the assessment period, but it's hard not to want to take one more lap round the water cooler knowing that each and every step is being tallied. My fitness routine is anything but routine: four days of driving a desk, followed by a three-day Bikram yoga blitz, and a 10-mile stroll through downtown L.A.
The goal: To get everyone moving 30 minutes every day and to raise the bar on those already active. Rather than take you from sloth to health all at once, the program charts your weekly goals, nudging you forward by a percentage each week. Any large project broken down into sufficiently small parts...
My take: My (human!) fitness coach emails to ask if I have any personal goals, and I tell her I want to be more consistent with my workouts. At the end of the assessment period, I plug in and dive into the data. I'm not too surprised that I burn a scant 625 calories a day on average, with some days closer to 400 and others more than 1,100. I am surprised, though, that this still qualifies me as (on the high end of) sedentary, a word I apply to people like my suburban parents, who drive everywhere and whose only weekly activity is bowling.
The follow-through: DirectLife tells me that at the end of 12 weeks I should be up to 845 calories each day; my goal this week is to hit 644 calories.
By laying the device against a flat surface for a second or two, a series of six green dots light up to show what percent of my daily goal I've hit so far.
My take: After an engrossing half hour of poking around in my data (that walk to the subway only burns 40 calories!), I'm tempted to give in to my usual patterns and push all activity to the weekend. The Web site reminds me, though, that daily activity is more healthy overall than a sloth-and-scurry approach to fitness. The first day that I'm actually armed with my data, I race around Manhattan all morning, then sit stationary at my desk all evening. When I get home at 10 p.m., I want nothing more than to climb onto the sofa and zone out for an hour, but before I climb the two flights to my apartment, I balance the DirectLife against my palm and get my reading for the day so far: only two measly green dots light up. Begrudgingly, I call my fiancée down to the sidewalk and we snake our way around the neighborhood. An hour later, I've earned all six dots (booyah) and my foul mood over being goaded to exercise by a hunk of plastic has lifted. I actually feel, well, pretty good.
Can I stick with it? Will the habits last? Is my replacement device destined to be lost as well? Stay tuned for more reports from me and other testers during the 12-week program.