Losing weight once you reach age 50 can be difficult. But self-monitoring your eating and exercise habits through the use of digital technology can help, research suggests.
Various software applications (apps) and digital devices for weight management abound. Following are some of the various tools available, as well as advice on selecting the ones that will work best for you.
• Apps. In 2015 the Pew Research Center reported that 67 percent of Americans own a smartphone—a device that supports apps. There are now thousands of health and fitness apps available at no or low cost.
There are apps to track your food intake, calorie count, and exercise level, as well as to help you shop for groceries, cook nutritionally balanced meals, and make healthy choices at restaurants. Many of these apps sync up with wearable devices and smart scales.
• Wearable devices. You can forget about your pedometer—that’s old school. The latest trend in fitness monitoring is bands and watches—from Fitbit to Jawbone, Garmin, and Apple, among other brands.
Depending on the sophistication of the band you select, these devices can track how many steps you take a day, monitor your heart rate, record when you exercise, track your exercise intensity, and even evaluate the quality and duration of your sleep. You can also input your food and calorie intake. Some of the devices are GPS-enabled.
Bands and watches can be worn on your wrist, but there are also clips that can be attached to your belt, clothing, or shoes, as well as devices that are actually embedded in shoes, foot insoles, and earbuds.
At the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, the newest generation of wearable devices included shirts, bras, and eyeglasses. The data collected may be displayed on the device itself or sent to an app on your cell phone or your computer.
Wearable health and fitness devices will continue to arrive in all shapes and forms in the years to come—in fact, by 2020, wearables are expected to be a $40 billion industry, shipping 240 million devices annually. One of the latest developments is wearables that contain sensors to track gym performance, measure muscle mass and body mass index (BMI), and deliver pain relief in the form of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS).
• Smart scales. Research shows that weighing yourself daily is one of the best ways to lose weight—and a smart scale has advantages over traditional scales. These devices measure your weight just like a regular scale, but sync with a smartphone app or website through Wi-Fi or a cellular network to record your weight, providing you with charts and graphs that track how you’re doing. Some scales can also measure your BMI, body fat percentage, and lean muscle mass. Many work in concert with a wearable device and apps.
If more than one person in your family wants to be able to use the scale, check that the model you’re considering is capable of accommodating multiple people.
• Online tools. The government has created several useful, free tools for tracking weight, food consumption, and exercise.
One of these is [SuperTracker](www. supertracker.usda.gov). This offering from the U.S. Department of Agriculture helps you to develop a customized eating plan, as well as record what you eat and how much you exercise.
In addition, you can look up nutrition information for more than 8,000 foods through the “Food-A-Pedia,” monitor your weight with “My Weight Manager,” and participate in healthy eating and activity challenges through “Group Challenges.”
Another online resource is [Aim for a Healthy Weight](www.nhlbi. nih.gov/health/educational/lose_ wt/index.htm) from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Here, you can calculate your BMI, take a quiz on portion sizes, and download meal plans.
What to look for
A health and fitness device, app, or website is only helpful if you actually use it. At first, you may love your tracker because it makes you look so athletic. It can also be a great motivator.
But be warned: Once you’ve tracked your daily steps for a while, the excitement of reaching 10,000 steps per day—or trying to—could wear off. You might start to forget to charge the device, and it could end up spending more time in the drawer than on your wrist. It might not provide the benefits you hoped for.
Still, digital tools do work for some. Here are essential features to seek out when choosing a gadget to manage your food and exercise behaviors and your body weight:
• Look for an affiliation with a reputable brand, such as Weight Watchers, or a respected academic institution so you know you can trust the quality of the product offered.
• Look for health and wellness education and behavioral strategies. Ironically, the most popular weight loss apps downloaded from Google Play and the Apple iTunes Store are among the lowest in quality in this regard, according to recent studies.
• Check for the ability to share your data with others, such as a healthcare provider, a health coach, discussion boards, and Facebook friends. Engaging with other like-minded people can boost motivation and help you acquire healthy skills.
• Make sure the devices you buy are compatible with one another. For instance, if you buy a smart scale, be sure it will sync with your cell phone, laptop, and/ or Wi-Fi network. (Does your bathroom get a Wi-Fi signal, for example?)
• Scan reviews of apps and devices on websites that sell the products to see how other users like them.
• At the store, ask an employee how hard or easy a device is to set up and whether you’ll need tech support.
• Ask if you can give the device a test run in the store.
• Make sure that the company behind an app or device you’re considering safeguards your private health information.
How to motivate yourself
• Set up diverse challenges for yourself (shoot not just for 10,000 steps a day, for example, but 12,000—or more) and against other users.
• Sign up for a tracker-based fitness coaching program, such as [Change Collective](www. changecollective.com/about).
• Go beyond just tracking steps. For instance, use the device to monitor how well and how long you sleep. You may be surprised to find that you often wake up several times during the night without knowing it.
• Choose a device that you find aesthetically pleasing. Make sure you like both the look of the device and the way the data is displayed (the interface). You might even go for some bling to coordinate with professional and dressy attire: Designer Tory Burch offers Fitbit bracelets that look more like jewelry than fitness gear, and Misfit has teamed with Swarovski to produce crystal bands and pendants.
Nancy Monson is a Connecticut-based freelance writer. Her articles have been published in over 30 national magazines and newsletters, including AARP The Magazine, Family Circle, Shape, USA Today, Weight Watchers Magazine, and Woman’s Day. She is also the author of three books, including Craft to Heal: Soothing Your Soul with Sewing, Painting, and Other Crafts.