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Tech Tools For A Fit Workforce

In our data-driven world, technology is playing an increasingly important role in any health regimen.

This is great news for small-business owners who want to promote fitness in the workplace without outlaying a lot of cash.

Wellness programs—employer-sponsored programs that help employees stay healthy—can have a positive effect on a business’s bottom line. According to a 2010 analysis performed by Harvard researchers, for every dollar a company spends on wellness, insurance costs fall by $3.27 and absenteeism-related costs fall by $2.73.

And there are other benefits that are more difficult to measure, such as worker productivity and happiness.

The problem is that wellness programs can be expensive. They often include pricey perks for employees such as gym memberships or health screenings. As a result, most small-business owners can’t afford to fund a full-scale solution. 

For businesses looking for an alternative to a comprehensive program, high-tech wellness tools are a good option. They can also augment existing wellness programs for those who are lucky enough to have them.

From holiday gadget gifts to a simple email listing free Web resources, there are many different ways you can leverage technology to help your employees stay healthy and happy. Here’s a host of ideas that will benefit just about anyone, whether it’s a new dieter who needs a kick in the pants or a devoted health nut who wants to try something new.


Go-To Gadgets

A growing array of electronic devices can do everything from monitor your heart rate to select the soundtrack for your workout.

Store shelves have become crowded with fitness gadgets. Many of them are specialty equipment geared toward a particular sport like swimming or biking. And some are so complex that they’re sold with thick instruction manuals.

Here are two standout gadgets that have universal appeal, low learning curves and high cool quotients.

  • Fitbit Ultra Wireless Activity Tracker ($99.95) is a discreet—and clever—device that you clip on in the morning and wear throughout the day. As you work, run errands and exercise, it collects a huge amount of data, including how many steps you take and how many calories you burn. (It even knows how well you sleep at night.) Fitbit translates all that information into nifty graphs and charts that you can view online.

While you can track your progress over time, immediate feedback might be Fitbit’s most useful feature. For example, if you see your activity level for the day is low, you might be more inclined to hit the gym or take a walk.

  • Withings WiFi Body Scale ($159) beams your weight, body fat and body mass index to an online database every time you step on the scale. It can accommodate up to eight different users, so it can be shared with co-workers at the office or with family members at home. (Don’t worry—while individual users are automatically recognized, each account has its own privacy settings.)

The scale is compatible with many different third-party websites and services, including Fitbit, Lose It! and Weightbot, which are all mentioned in this article.


Get Smart

Did you know that your smartphone can count your steps, enhance your workouts and help you make better food choices? Android and iPhone users can now download applications that give their phones the same functionality as pricey fitness gadgets.

Smartphone apps not only boost your fitness, but they can also save you money and the hassle of lugging around an extra device.

Here are four ideas to get you started.

  1. Calorie Counter & Diet Tracker by MyFitnessPal for iPhone and Android (free) helps you keep a log of everything you eat throughout the day. According to a 2008 study conducted by the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, paying attention to food intake pays huge dividends for dieters. Participants who kept a food diary lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t.

  1. Weightbot for iPhone ($1.99) is a straightforward app that tracks your weight over time. It’s a minimalist approach compared to the more comprehensive apps on the market, but looking at a simple line graph of your weight over time can be a surprisingly effective motivator.
  1. Fooducate for iPhone and Android (free) is like having a dietician shop with you at the grocery store. This app scans the barcodes of packaged foods to provide on-the-spot nutritional analysis that helps informs your shopping decisions. It will also suggest healthy alternatives to problem foods so you won’t be tempted to fill your cart with junk.

  1. Runkeeper for iPhone and Android (free) leverages the GPS technology in your phone to help track your runs. Once you’re home, you can analyze everything from your pace to your path. It also calculates how many calories you burned.

Best In Show: Wellness On The Web

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that one-third of American adults are obese. Estimates for 2008 alone put the medical costs associated with obesity at around $147 billion.

Many websites out there that can help you lose weight. Here are three of the best all-around resources for nutrition and fitness.

  1. Lose It! is a great website for dieters who are goal-oriented. Its intuitive user interface helps you set a goal, and then tracks your progress as you enter information about your diet and exercise. A free app for iPhone and Android lets you input data on the go. Reporting features make it easy to monitor your progress.
  1. WebMD, one of the most popular health information websites, maintains a Healthy Eating and Diet page. It’s a one-stop resource for expert advice, cooking tips and fitness guides. It also offers a free Food & Fitness planner that helps you track calorie intake and exercise sessions.
  1. GAIN Fitness is a free website that helps you build custom workouts based on your personal fitness goals. With video tutorials for more than 700 exercises (including yoga poses), GAIN Fitness is the next best thing to a personal trainer.

Websites For Foodies

Maintaining a healthy weight doesn't have to mean eating carrot sticks for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Calorie-conscious cooking can be just as tasty as the high-fat stuff.

Whether you’re a seasoned chef or you’re just beginning to build your recipe collection, the Internet is a great resource for delicious—and nutritious—recipes.

Here are a few sites worth checking on a regular basis.

  • You don’t have to buy your groceries at Whole Foods to take advantage of the company’s treasure trove of recipes. They’re all online. The well-organized site lets you browse by course, category, main ingredient, and dietary restrictions. It also provides nutritional analysis for each recipe, so you know exactly what you’re getting into when you go back for seconds.
  • Cookbook author and natural food guru Heidi Swanson shares many of her favorite recipes at 101cookbooks.com. While her specialty is hearty vegetarian fare, she is also known for her satisfying—but never decadent—desserts. Her tone is warm and chatty, with stories about her life and travels woven into the introduction of every recipe.
  • The New York Times’ Recipe for Health series is built on a simple premise: “The easiest and most pleasurable way to eat well is to cook.” With a focus on seasonal ingredients, it’s a great resource for healthful eating in winter, spring, summer and fall.

Social Networking

For years, weight-loss heavyweights like Weight Watchers have organized face-to-face meetings where members can mingle. Adding a social component to a fitness regimen makes diet and exercise more fun, and it also helps people stay accountable. Most folks are less likely to sneak an extra piece of pie when they know they will be weighed in front of an audience.

In the Internet era, many fitness-related websites offer social networking features. Often, that means broadcasting accomplishments (and failures) on third-party platforms like Facebook or Twitter. But what about the people who don’t want to share their weight with their high school classmates?

Social butterflies can stay anonymous on websites that have been designed to function as stand-alone communities. For example, SparkPeople.com, a free website that Fortune Magazine has called “the Facebook of dieting,” has millions of members. (New joiners raise the count by about 8,000 each day.) Users can share recipes, tips and encouragement—with or without their real names. Other sites like dailyburn.com allow users to set up private fitness challenges, such as an inter-office weight loss competition.

Finally, keep in mind that you have a built-in social network right there at the office. Instead of using a social networking site, try using simple tools like email to organize group walks, runs or healthy potlucks.


For More Information

Find more information on nutrition and fitness at these websites.

The Mayo Clinic’s guide to nutrition and healthy eating

A collection of exercise-related resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s dietary and physical assessment tools

And be sure to check out more health and wellness articles at the NASE Health Resource Center.