Week 4: Taking Off Pounds, Online

Technology contributor Mario Armstrong and Farai Chideya talk about some Web-based tools to help aid weight loss.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Since starting my fitness challenge last month, I'm eating better, exercising more, and trying to have a little fun while breaking a sweat.

This week, for something different, we turn to NEWS AND NOTES tech contributor Mario Armstrong. Now, surfing the web may not burn as many calories as I'd like, but Mario says there's a lot of information in cyberspace to help me reach my goal.

Mr. MARIO ARMSTRONG (tech contributor to NPR's NEWS & NOTES): There are plenty of tools that you can use, things for your handheld, things that are online, that help you maintain and stay in track of, and be able to report on, your progress or lack thereof.

CHIDEYA: Give me some examples.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: A good example that you can do today is, you can create your online profile. A way where you put in some of your measurements--maybe your height, your weight, your exercise pattern--whether or not your schedule is flexible for you to do a cardio training versus a muscle building training. And then they can kind of give you a synopsis of, based off of this information you shared with me, here is what your next steps need to be in order to achieve the goals that you're looking forward to.

And they can put a program right in place, eFitness was one of the websites that I was really impressed with; being able to track my statistics daily, getting a birds eye view of my monthly fitness plan. And one of the things that I really liked is that, you know when you're trying to do your fitness, sometimes you just don't stick to your plan like you've planned to do, and you need to do that emergency cheating, if you will, on some food and stop at fast food? They even have some of that covered in some of these tools, to account for that, if in fact that happens to you in your daily routine.

CHIDEYA: (Laughs) Hmm, has it happened to me? Oh, no, never! Never!

What about things like PDA's, things that you can carry around that, you know, it's a lot easier than carrying around a whole computer. Do they have programs?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: They have tons of programs, over 1,000 I've found at Palm.com, which is the leading device out there for personal digital assistants, which are PDA's. And some of the hottest ones was My Workout Tracker, and it was really interesting. But I've even seen, like, for instance Weight Watchers, being able to create programs, software, that runs on these PDA's. So you can track your points; you can track when you're going, say, to the grocery store and you're looking up particular vegetable or something to eat; you can find out exactly how many points you have.

You can monitor your points and your progress throughout your day; for your morning meal, your midday meal, your evening meal, and then it can synch up--the beauty of having a PDA running a program that tracks your fitness campaign, is that you can then synch that up to your computer and print out the results. And that can help you really identify trends, identify your weaknesses, and really, the proof is in that paper when you see it right there in front of you.

CHIDEYA: And of course there's Weight Watchers online, which I guess does some of these similar things on the computer. But how much do these programs cost? There's, we're talking in some ways about some of them are subscription based services and some of them are software…what are the price ranges?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yeah, I've seen everything from $9.00 for a 13-week program to have your online profile, to give you your calendar, your actual workout program, even give you access to a virtual trainer that can coach you along the way if you have questions--all the way over to $99.00 for a year program.

So, some of these things aren't expensive. Now on the handheld--those are online tools, on the actual handheld--these are one-time purchases of software that you will keep. And that's ranged from $19.00 to about $30.00, depending on the features of that software program.

But the thing that I've noticed that most folks are having the most success with--let's take for example a person that is in Weight Watchers' program and simply just follows the point system and follows that program the way you're supposed to, versus another member of Weight Watchers that does the same thing but uses the assistance of an online support group. We've seen an increasing amount of progress and success in those folks that have also decided to take the extra step and reach out for support online. To share like stories, like experiences, and like tips, and tricks to stay on focus.

CHIDEYA: It sounds like there are plenty of good tools for me to use and I'm actually going to try some out. So, stay tuned for further fitness challenge moments.

Mario…

Mr. ARMSTRONG: I have one more to…

CHIDEYA: Oh, you do? Go ahead Mario.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: I'm sorry, yes. I have one more to sneak in. Because, you know, I've found out, Farai, that even if you love video games, you can get a workout. So, one of the things…

CHIDEYA: Wait, wait… Dance, Dance, Revolution? Is that where you were going?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: (Laughs) Dance, Dance, Revolution--that's one. But there's a new one out that's called Power Grid Fitness. And this is a handheld controller that enables you to move a character or drive a car, whatever the videogame you want to play on any console system--but instead of pushing buttons with your thumbs, you actually have to hold a controller that has isometric resistance built into it. So you're burning calories, you're getting a workout, and the friction in the device is really just amazing in how it worked.

I couldn't believe I was racing cars and I was actually breaking a sweat. It seemed like it was like a recreational equivalent of discovering that, say, a Godiva chocolate with nutritional benefits of broccoli. You know, I just love video games, so if I can get a workout playing a video game, what's better than that?

CHIDEYA: Yeah, well I heard that Dance, Dance, Revolution has now been added to PE programs in several schools. That's the one where you dance around in a pattern on a grid, you know. So, um…

Mr. ARMSTRONG: They've been very successful with that, and they're finding that its really encouraging kids throughout the day. They're seeing academics performed better because they're allowing kids to have exercise in a more meaningful and interactive way.

CHIDEYA: All right.

Well Mario Armstrong is a regular NEWS AND NOTES contributor, and he also covers technology for Baltimore member stations WYPR and WEAA.

Thanks Mario.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Thanks, Farai. Stay healthy. Keep going with your mission.

CHIDEYA: I'm going to try my best.

You can hear some of my other adventures in fitness plus see pictures of my progress at our website, npr.org.

Next week, NEWS AND NOTES regular nutritionist Rubinia Brach(ph) dishes out some dos and don'ts on vitamins, supplements, and diet pills.

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