Microsoft Band Seamlessly Integrates Into Your Life

Image: Microsoft
Image: Microsoft.

Harkening back to the running shoe craze of the 1980s, wearable fitness tech is everywhere. Each variation does things a little differently from the rest, though wrist placement seems to be the preferred option.

Now securely in this new-ish realm, Microsoft offers the Band for fitness and a gazillion other things. Powered by Microsoft Health, the Microsoft Band pairs with your phone via Bluetooth. Combined with the Microsoft Health app on your phone and website-based dashboard, the Band helps you keep tabs on your fitness, nutrition, and weight goals by counting your steps, keeping track of your heart rate, measuring activity and sleep, and more. It can also map your walks, runs, and bike rides with the built-in GPS. No need to take your phone with you. There is also a UV monitor, which will help you decide if sunscreen is needed.

The phone app and website dashboard. Image: Microsoft
The phone app and website dashboard. Image: Microsoft.

You can access a lot more on the Microsoft Health website and phone app. The phone gives you a bigger screen to keep an eye on your stats, and also allows you to choose personal workouts with videos that guide you through them, right on your phone. The website has a fantastic interface for obsessing over keeping track of your fitness goals as well, allowing you to analyze all of your fitness stats.

If you want more from your wrist tech than just fitness, the Band delivers that as well. It can also be your personal assistant. Receive alerts, social media messages, text messages, call notifications, emails, and other notifications on the Band. Keep track of your calendar, sleep, timers and alarms, and more. Navigate menus easily with its touchscreen, and when linked with a Windows phone, you can access Cortana and a handy but tiny keyboard on your Band. This is a lot more discreet than pulling out your phone during a meeting.

In case you wanted to know what's inside. Image: Microsoft
In case you wanted to know what’s inside. Image: Microsoft.

What’s the Band like?
Compared to my FitBit Flex, the Band is bulkier and beefier. The parts of the Band that go along the sides of your wrist are inflexible, which can affect fit. Also, it’s not meant to be submerged in water. So you can likely wear it on a rainy day or have it on your wrist while you wash your hands, but be sure to take it off to shower and swim.

I found the magnetic charger cable to be pretty nifty. Just attach it to the Band and plug it in. No worries about bending the end of a cable. It’s also easy to slightly adjust the size of the Band, either to fit your wrist or to adjust for comfort throughout the day. The Band also comes in three sizes, so you’ll find a model to fit you. Measure yourself on the sizing chart to make sure you get the right size.

The Band gives you all of your message alerts. Image: Microsoft
The Band gives you all of your message alerts. Image: Microsoft.

Visit the Microsoft Band site for more in-depth specifications, detailed features and instructions, and a closer look at the included sensors.

Some observations:

  • The screen can scratch easily, but third-party screen protectors are available, if that’s a concern for you.
  • There seems to be a character limit on what the Band will display for a text or message.
  • Make sure the Band fits well to get the correct heart rate.
  • Push updates for things like taking your turn on Carcassonne can tip you off to stay connected.
  • The Band needs to be charged about every other day, compared with about every week or so for the FitBit Flex.

Some helpful tips:

  • You can wear it on the inside or outside of your wrist.
  • You can lock it so that it shows the time all the time, like a regular watch.
  • You can customize it with background color and a pattern of choice, along with what apps it displays.
  • Use the tiny screen keyboard to reply to texts and more.
  • The Band can show your texts one word at a time, pausing for punctuation, making it easy-ish to read a long text.

The Microsoft Band is also hooked up to your Microsoft account, so I was curious about what steps Microsoft takes to ensure privacy. Here are the relevant FAQs on the matter.

Q: Does Microsoft give the personal data I provide to Microsoft Health to third parties? Does Microsoft Health keep personal data private?

A: Microsoft believes it is important to help you maintain your privacy. We will not share your personal data with third parties without your permission.

Q: Do you have plans to monetize my data? What steps have you taken to ensure third party partners will not abuse data collected through Microsoft Health, or sell it to data brokers, information resellers or advertisers?

A: We have no plans to monetize or do anything with the data that the user does not initiate on their own. If you connect a third party app, such as MyFitnessPal or RunKeeper to Microsoft Health Service, the use of your activity information is subject to the privacy practices and terms of use for the third party service. We strongly encourage you to review the privacy statement and terms of use for any third part service before you connect.

Q: What does Microsoft Health do with the data it collects?

A: Microsoft Health is a cloud-based destination to store, share and convert information into insights you can use to achieve your fitness goals.

Q: Where do you store my Microsoft Health data?

A: The information collected from the Microsoft Band sensors and the information you provide for your profile is stored in the Microsoft Health Service and not in the Microsoft Health app on your phone. We store personal information on computer systems that have limited access and are in controlled facilities.

Q: How long do you keep my Microsoft Health data?

A: Generally, based on standard data retention policies, Microsoft keeps your personal data as long as you continue to use the product or service. If you close your Microsoft Health account, Microsoft will stop collecting your Microsoft Health data. To close your account, please contact customer support.

Q: Who owns my Microsoft Health data?

A: Microsoft Health is designed to create a security enhanced, centralized location for the industry to store and democratize data for the benefit of everyone. Customers have the ultimate power in deciding what data they choose to share, and with whom. We do not share anything without your permission.

If you’re into wearable tech and like to always be connected to the interwebs and/or you’re very active and love to track your stats, the Microsoft Band is a fun and useful thing to wear. And at $199.99, it’s priced competitively with other tech on the market.

Note: As part of the Microsoft Bloggers program, I have been provided hardware for the purpose of these reviews. The views expressed in these posts are my honest opinions about the subjects involved.

Office Chair Battle: Gaiam BalanceBall Chair vs. Regular Desk Chair

Left: BalanceBall chair, Right: My regular chair \ Image: Dakster Sullivan
Left: BalanceBall chair. Right: My regular chair \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

As a full-time network administrator, most of my day is spent sitting behind a desk. Recently, I’ve started to notice some bad habits in my posture that have caused me to have back and knee pain on a regular basis. I’d heard that sitting on a balance ball was a good way to ease back pain, but the balls I tried were too short to reach my desk. I learned about the Gaiam BalanceBall chair while surfing on Amazon and it looked like it was worth a try.

What caught my attention with the chair was the base and how it lifted the ball off the ground enough to help me sit more comfortably at my desk.

Before we get into the nitty gritty of the review, let me tell you a few things about balance balls in general.

Balance balls (AKA yoga balls, Pilates balls, gym balls, etc.) are inflated rubber balls that are used in gyms and yoga classes for various exercises. The difference between sitting on a balance ball verses a regular chair is that the body responds to the instability of the ball and forces your core muscles to work at keeping your balance. It also forces you to stay focused. If you don’t focus on sitting correctly when on the balance ball, you’ll find yourself kissing the floor. Sitting on a balance ball won’t give you six pack abs, but working with one on a regular basis will help improve your posture and help strengthen your core muscles.

Now, on to the review…

BalanceBall vs Regular Chair \ Image: Dakster Sullivan
BalanceBall vs Regular Chair \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

Some assembly is required to get the chair ready for use, but the instructions are easy to follow and I had mine built in about five minutes. The size of the ball that comes with the chair is perfect for anyone between 5′ and 5′ 11″ in height. The bad news is that if you’re under 5′ or over 5′ 11″, this chair won’t work for you. Instead, Gaiam suggests you check out the Total Body Balance Kit. It’s not a chair, but it comes with three different size balls to use so you can find the right fit for your height.

Once you have it assembled, it’s time to get sitting.

The first step to sitting on a BalanceBall is making sure that you inflate it to the correct height. If you inflate it too much, it may rupture. If you inflate it too little, you will be uncomfortable while sitting on it and you won’t be doing your body any favors. The general rule here is pretty simple: If the ball you’re using is sized at 52 centimeters, then it should inflate to be 52 centimeters tall.

Once the ball is inflated properly, place your “sit bones” in the middle of the ball and keep your back straight (don’t lean on the support beam). Your shins and thighs should be at a 90 degree angle. If they’re not, inflate or deflate the ball until they are.

Getting used to the BalanceBall chair on the first day was a little rough. In my old chair, I would wheel myself around my office space instead of getting up. The wheels on the BalanceBall chair are not designed to handle that kind of swerving around. I also found myself bouncing and swaying to the point where I got a little sea-sick. An hour or so break in my regular chair, though, and I was ready to hit the ball again.

After a few days, I noticed a significant difference in my posture and the overall feel of my back. It’s only been about a week since I’ve started using it, so it will take a bit longer to see if it’s made any difference in my core muscle strength, but right now I’m happy to have less back pain and more comfort in my day.

  • First and most importantly, keep it away from your office heater – This seems like common sense, but my first BalanceBall suffered an early death because I got up and it rolled into my heater when I wasn’t looking.
  • Take breaks – Sitting too long, in general, is bad for your back. Give your back a break and stand up and stretch every so often. I usually take a standing break once every 30 minutes to once an hour. This is especially important if you’re like me and spend your day staring at a computer. That few minutes standing up and stretching will make a big difference in your comfort levels while at the office.
  • Post a note somewhere near you that will see to remind you to sit correctly The ball will force you to sit upright, but the rest of your body is up to you.
  • Keep the ball inflated to the correct size – The chair comes with a pump and it’s pretty easy to pop the stopper out and re-inflate it. The first few days you will need to re-inflate about once or twice a day so the ball can stretch out to its full potential.
  • Keep your regular chair – There might be times when you will need to give your body a break from the BalanceBall, so keep a regular chair on standby.
  • Keep sharp objects clear of the BalanceBall – The BalanceBall is pretty durable, but things like scissors, pens, staplers, and other sharp desk items should stay away. Even the slightest mark on the ball could become a safety hazard. For safety reasons, Gaiam doesn’t sell repair kits, so if something happens and the integrity of the ball is compromised, you will need to replace the ball.
  • Don’t throw away the tools that come with the chair – The small metal flat wrench is perfect for getting the stopper out of the ball when you need to refill it with air.

After losing my ball to a pair of scissors (I should have taken my own advice), I had to sit in my regular chair for two weeks while I waited for a replacement to arrive. During those two weeks, I realized how much of a difference my BalanceBall chair made in my overall focus and comfort levels while at work. Now that I’m sitting pretty on my replacement ball, I couldn’t be happier with my decision to go from ordinary chair to extraordinary chair.

The Gaiam BalanceBall chair comes with a neat little book with simple exercises that you can do right at your desk and is available on Gaiam’s website for $79.98.

GeekMom received a Gaiam BalanceBall for review purposes.

Product Review: PEAR Sports Smart Training System for Android and iOS

Image credit:
Image credit:

The PEAR Mobile Training Intelligence System is the first app/accessory system I’ve tried that does more than simply regurgitate a heart rate, location, or pace when you tap your device for feedback: it will collect, record, and customize workout data for you based on your heart rate. In addition, the app’s coach will talk to you throughout your workout (if you like) and keep you motivated.

As you geeky moms know by now, I love trying out fitness apps on my training runs and writing about them here. It’s been fascinating to me how apps and accompanying devices have evolved over the three years I’ve been with GeekMom. I’ve reviewed four systems for running and this one I’m about to tell you about is the most dynamically interactive.

What Comes in the Box

  • PEAR “Stride” headphones
  • Molded silicone earpieces in assorted sizes for a custom fit (I’ll discuss those more below)
  • Bluetooth heart rate monitor and strap
  • Nylon carrying pouch
You will receive everything you see here in the box. The fitness app is a free download. Image credit:
You will receive everything you see here in the box. The fitness app is a free download. Image credit:

Setup and Calibration

Setting up the PEAR system was relatively straightforward. This isn’t something you want to do just a few minutes before taking your run, however. Take some time to ensure you’ve downloaded the app, correctly sized the heart rate monitor strap, and properly fit your headphones with the best-fitting silicone earpieces.

The app is a free download, either at the iTunes store or Google Play store.

Downloading the app is pretty straightforward. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.
Downloading the app is pretty straightforward. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

Once you have the app all set up on your device (it will ask some demographic information, mostly likely to accurately calculate ideal heart rates and calorie burns), it’s time to set up the hardware.

First, try on the headphones and see if the silicone ear fittings are comfortable. If not, you can slip a better-fitting set on. I liked the size that the headphones had on in the packaging, the headphones don’t budge one bit when I’m running, which is what I like.

As seen in the top photo, the PEAR system includes various sizes of blue silicone ear fittings. Choose the size most comfortable for you. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
As seen in the top photo, the PEAR system includes various sizes of blue silicone ear fittings. Choose the size most comfortable for you. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
The silicone will fit outside of your ear canal. If the fittings are too large, your ears will be sore after long-term use. Photo: Jacob Vollmer.
The silicone will fit outside of your ear canal. If the fittings are too large, your ears will be sore after long-term use. Photo: Jacob Vollmer.

Once the headphones are fitted, next it’s time to connect and calibrate the heart rate monitor. The heart rate monitor is a Bluetooth monitor, which works differently than the other monitors I’ve tested for GeekMom. The Wahoo Fitness system used an ANT+ radio frequency to connect with a separate receiver that was attached to my phone. PEAR uses Bluetooth which means less components for the heart rate monitor to communicate with the fitness app.

Put on the heart rate monitor. It fits like other monitors, around your torso just below your sternum. For women, it’s going to sit just below your bra. Once it’s fitted, ensure you have Bluetooth enabled on your device, then make sure the PEAR app is running to attempt to connect with it.

Note: The PEAR app will not recognize any data unless the heart rate monitor strap is on and actively reading data.

Additional Note: You may need to go into Bluetooth settings and force a connection between your smart device and heart rate monitor. I only had to do this the first time, all subsequent connections occurred without additional setup.

PEAR will give guidance on how to appropriately wear the heart rate monitor strap. Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.
PEAR will give guidance on how to appropriately wear the heart rate monitor strap. Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.

Once the strap is on and the Bluetooth discoveries have been made, you should be presented with a screen like the one below, showing your heart rate and preparing you for a calibration run. You will hear a voice prompt through the headphones that will walk you through precisely what you’re supposed to do.

You can easily access your onboard tunes, and if you have Pandora playing, you can select a "Now Playing" option as well. Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.
You can easily access your onboard tunes, and if you have Pandora playing, you can select a “Now Playing” option as well. Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.
I took this screen capture just a few seconds into my run. Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.

The calibration workout is used to determine your “lactate threshold” heart rate value, which is then used for subsequent workouts to help coach you for optimum results. The voice prompts will have you run at assorted intensities, and the prompt will pepper you with examples of how you should be feeling during that particular intensity. For example, one of the light jogs suggested that “You could run forever at this pace.”

After the 20 minute calibration run, a range of heart rates will be presented to you. If you’re happy training with those values, you can proceed to training runs (which I’ll get to momentarily). If you aren’t happy with the values, feel free to perform the calibration run again.

Presenting my calibrated heart rate ranges. Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.
You can tilt the device to see a graph showing how much time is spent in each workout zone. Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.

Workout Options

You can do manual “Free Format” workouts coached with your calibrated heart rate ranges as guidance, but there are numerous other options as well. Simply delve into the “Workouts” tab on the app home screen. You can choose singular workouts, or download full multi-workout training plans.

There are endless workout options, from those included in the app to several others available through the PEAR Store. Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.
There are endless workout options, from those included in the app to several others available through the PEAR Plan Store. Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.

The PEAR Plan Store

Sick of plain old ordinary workouts? Visit the Workout Plan Store for additional options. You can download plans that will provide voice and heart rate coaching. Many of the workout plans offered are free of charge, but there are several that cost a one-time fee per download.

Choose additional specialized workouts from the PEAR Workout Store. Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.
These Ragnar workouts are available for a fee. Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.
Single workouts average about $1-2 per download. Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.
Single workouts average about $1-2 per download. Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.
Longer training plans will cost more, but are less than single workout downloads. Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.
Longer training plans, such as this Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon plan, will cost more, but are less than single workout downloads. Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.

Analysis of Workouts

While most of the data is available on your smart device, if you log in to your PEAR account dashboard on a non-mobile browser, you have a nice GUI available for further analysis of your workouts, from maps to heart rate analysis.

Use the standard browser GUI at to further analyze your performance. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

In addition, the PEAR app will integrate with other fitness apps. As of this writing, it works with MapMyFitness and MyFitnessPal. Follow the steps in the app to authorize connections among the apps.


With the heart rate monitor and headphones, the PEAR fitness system is the most interactive fitness system I’ve ever experienced. Buying the system that includes well-fitting headphones and a Bluetooth heart rate monitor is nice, but I need to make clear here that if you have your own Bluetooth heart rate monitor and any set of headphones, the free PEAR mobile download (for iOS and Android) is really all you need. You don’t necessarily have to purchase the product.

If you want the rest of the system, it retails for $99.99 and is available through the PEAR Sports website or at electronics retailers such as Amazon.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

2013 Global Run for the Water: Who’s in With Me?

Image: Gazelle Foundation

This Sunday, fitness fans have the chance to virtually take part in a brilliant fundraiser opportunity. The annual Run for Water in Austin, Texas has provided funds to help provide clean water for tens of thousands of Burundians. In fact, each race entry provides a lifetime of clean water for one Burundian.

The race was founded by Burundi-born Gilbert Tuhabonye, a survivor of the Burundian Civil War and an avid runner. He started the Gazelle Foundation to give back to his native country by providing clean water systems and educating Americans on the importance of clean water availability worldwide.

While the concrete Run for the Water will be taking place in Austin this Sunday, October 27th (feel free to register for the 10 miler, 5K, or Fun Run in Austin through this link), the Gazelle Foundation has teamed with up the folks at MapMyFitness to allow users of the popular fitness app to take part in the race from anywhere in the world through the 2013 Global Run for the Water. Simply record your race through MapMyFitness.

My 11-year-old son and I have signed up for the race and we’re looking forward to doing a 5K on Sunday morning right here in Colorado Springs.

Are you interested in helping out Burundians while doing your workout from anywhere? It’s easy! Sign up through this link. After registering, you will receive an email with instructions on how to set up your MapMyFitness app for the race. The virtual race costs $25 and includes a Mizuno-brand t-shirt and a two-month MVP membership for MapMyFitness.

GeekMom received two complimentary registrations to the race for review purposes.

The MapMyFitness Team Declares: “Boston, We’re With You” screen capture: Patricia Vollmer. screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

I love this run someone did in San Francisco on April 16th, spelling out the word “Boston” with his footsteps. You can view the details of this route through the MapMyFitness Google map editor. The staff at MapMyFitness wrote a lovely tribute to the Boston Marathon tragedy on their company blog today. Click through below to read more.

Boston, We’re With You. | MapMyFitnessMapMyFitness.

BodyMedia Gives the Raw Data

Body Media
Image courtesy Body Media.

Last week I reviewed the Striiv, and this week I’ll look at the BodyMedia FIT system. Full disclosure: I was provided with a review unit of the CORE system for this evaluation.

The BodyMedia FIT CORE  is available from Amazon and other stores starting at $143 for the basic device, but it’s worth it for the slight upgrade to the version with Bluetooth. They’re also releasing a short term, disposable version that adheres to the skin for a week. The BodyMedia device came in part from the skunkworks at Carnegie Mellon and uses technology developed by IBM.

The strength of the BodyMedia system is that it provides more information than a simple pedometer or activity meter. In addition to steps it can measure periods of intense activity and your sleep levels and quality. The BodyMedia system also allows you to manually track your calories, measurement, and weight. The advantage is that you can more accurately keep track of most of the crucial factors impacting weight loss and see it all in one place.

Mobile Apps

BodyMedia provides both Android and iOS versions of their mobile app. For the CORE model with no Bluetooth, this provides a historical record of data transferred to the BodyMedia website when you charge the device on your computer via USB. For LINK users, you can see a snapshot of your current activity via Bluetooth. It’s one of the reasons upgrading to the Bluetooth version is worth it for this system. Without a Bluetooth connection, you’re stuck examining historical data. You can’t see anything as it happens.

The mobile app also allows you to enter calorie information, and the Bluetooth connected device can also give you a mobile workout accompanied to music you’ve stored on your phone. The Bluetooth connection makes sure your workout is effective.

If you don’t have a smartphone and you do want to see real-time data, you can get a watch-like display accessory for around $99. It only works with the models without Bluetooth.

Weight Loss and Permanent Armbands

Screen Capture

BodyMedia claims that this system is clinically proven to help with weight loss, and I believe it. If you can see a behavior, you can change the behavior. However, it’s also the most intrusive of the systems I’ve looked at. Why? To use the system properly, you must wear the armband on your upper arm for 23 out of 24 hours per day. Take it off to charge while you shower, and then put it back on. I spoke with BodyMedia CEO Christine Robins at CES, and she assured me that after five days, most people no longer noticed that they were wearing an armband.

Personally, I did notice I was wearing an armband, and although it became more natural, it never became second nature. It also interfered with clothing choices. Although I could hide the armband under my sleeve, it always seemed either too tight or too loose. It would occasionally fall off, and it was uncomfortable for me to wear while sleeping. Other people may not run into this issue.

Subscription Plans

The BodyMedia devices cost more than either Striiv or FitBit. Fair enough. They also provide more data. However, you can’t use the device at all unless you have a subscription plan on the BodyMedia website. The plan is currently $6.95 per month with the first three months free. If you genuinely lose weight on this system, that’s still cheaper than many systems.

To be fair, you also get analysis, advice, and suggested routines. You can specify that you want to lose one pound per week, and BodyMedia’s Activity Manager website will tell you the activity level you need to maintain in order to achieve it. You can avoid weight loss pitfalls like crash diets and lousy sleep patterns, and you earn badges when you achieve a new personal best.


This is a tool for the dedicated dieter with a long-term plan. You have to commit to wearing a band on your arm, which may be visibile at times with your clothing choices. You have to commit to calorie tracking, weigh-ins, and data review along with a monthly subscription plan. This is a powerful choice for people making a serious commitment.

It’s also a rather dry commitment. You must be internally motivated by the raw data. While they offer badges for achieving personal bests, it’s hardly the exciting games and walkathons of the Striiv. BodyMedia has opened up their API to developers, so we may end up seeing more fun and games with the armband in the future.  I certainly hope so. There’s a lot of competition out there, and BodyMedia just isn’t exciting me yet.

Striiv Is Motivating

Image courtesy Striiv

I just got back from CES, and boy is it great to be back where there aren’t over 150,000 people competing for Internet access. As it turned out, I walked close to two marathons in Las Vegas during during my week at the show.

Lots of people asked me what cool things I’d seen at the show, and I’d find myself repeatedly reaching into my pocket and pulling out my Striiv. (Full disclosure: I was provided with a review unit.) I’ve tried a lot of fitness devices, and I was sometimes wearing three at once during CES, but this was by far my favorite. It’s hard to make technology well, but it’s even harder to make technology fun. [Editor’s Note: GeekMom Amy Kraft has also given Striiv a thumb’s up.]

The Striiv is a small pedometer with a touch screen interface. It’s available from Amazon for a retail price of $99. The charge lasts approximately one week, and it uses a generic USB interface for charging and logging activity. It also comes with a keychain or belt holder. Out of curiosity, I left it in my pajama pockets as I slept, and it logged no steps from my tossing and turning, but it did just fine logging steps – a lot of steps – on the CES floor.

Ok, so it logs steps. What’s so special about that?

The Striiv interface logs steps and also gives you equivalent stairs, miles, and calories and tracks your averages over time. That’s great info, but just getting raw data isn’t enough. Striiv makes it fun. It awards badges for achievements like burning off an ice cream sundae or walking the distance of the Grand Canyon. You can also play a gardening game that uses the power of your foot energy to grow plants and bring back virtual animals to your own enchanted island.

Image courtesy Striiv

Every Day Is a Walkathon

One of the most motivating features I found was the real world charity donations. You can choose between clean water, rain forest preservation, or polio vaccines. Once you walk enough, your steps will achieve real-world donations to your chosen causes from Striiv and corporate partners. Don’t feel motivated to walk for yourself? Walk to provide a child with clean drinking water or a polio vaccine.

Image courtesy Striiv

Extra Challenges

When you check your steps, you’ll sometimes be offered extra challenges, like reach 114 steps in five minutes. You make a point bet that you can complete the challenge within the time limit, and you’re rewarded if you succeed but penalized if you fail. You can also spin the wheel and give yourself challenges anytime you feel like it. If you have a friend or spouse with a Striiv, you can make bets with each other (over short range and only with the newest devices).

In short, if you’re shopping for a pedometer, don’t settle for dry data. Find a device that motivates you to move. The Striiv has it, and I saw nothing but raves from the people using them, including Christy Matte, the fellow mom blogger and educational technologist who first showed me her Striiv and told me I just had to meet the company. She was right.


Fitness Week: Staying in Shape with the Help of Bionics

Judy Berna, exploring NYC wth her kids.

Getting in shape is a unique adventure, when you use technology to get around in the world. After I got my first artificial leg fitted, almost exactly eight years ago, I hit the gym. I’d spent years only exercising sporadically, held back by the deformed foot that I eventually chose to get rid of. It kept me from being ‘athletic’ in almost every sense of the word, and it was an exercise in futility to…well…exercise.

Then suddenly I had this great new metal foot, that had energy return, and range of motion. It made me stand up straight again, and I couldn’t wait to see all that it could do, once I got my core muscles back.

I hit the gym every day, for months. I lifted weights, rode the bike, and practiced the motions of my new foot on the controlled deck of the treadmill (with great handles to hang on to, in case I felt wobbly).  I didn’t learn to run on my new technology, because my first priority was getting back a normal walking gait.

As much as I love the feeling of being fit, the logistics can talk me out of making the effort.  The art of showering with an artificial leg means I have to wait to shower at home. The gym doesn’t have a set up that works for me. I also have the issue of sweat in my leg to figure out. After riding hard on the bike, the liner, that fits between my flesh and my leg socket, fills with sweat. Once I get off the equipment, and try to walk back to the locker room, I squish with every step. It’s like walking with a waterbed in your shoe. It can be a bit intimidating, to sit on the bench next to the showers, and strip down to the bare stump, and dump out the sweat.

My family has just recently moved to a small mountain town in Colorado. I’m excited about the future, because this is the place to live, if you want to be active. Most of the people I pass in the grocery store look like they’ve just come in from some outdoor adventure. Every other car in the parking lot has a bike rack or a kayak strapped to its roof. These people know how to get out there and enjoy life.

But for an amputee, it can be tricky to settle into a new gym. I’m not one of those super athlete amputees, who runs for exercise. I haven’t learned that skill yet. But I love to bike, and I love to lift weights.

I am very aware that the minute I walk into a new gym, people notice. It’s hard to miss my hardware, when I can only comfortably work out in shorts. My shiny metal ‘ankle’ reflects the bright sun that pours through the big windows. My hard plastic ‘calf’, with its nicks and scrapes, doesn’t match my flesh and bone calf very well. I suspect I feel the eyes on my presence, much like the truly overweight person feels the stares, when they walk into a room full of mostly fit people.

But I don’t let the glances bother me. A long time ago I taught myself a coping mechanism that works great for me. The reality is, I will never know the true thoughts of 99.9 of those who ‘look’. I get the chance to choose what I assume they’re thinking. So I choose wisely.

I choose to believe they are looking at me with respect. They see my challenges, that are so easily apparent to the world, and they honor the fact I’m making this effort. I go beyond that, and I impose upon them the feelings of gratitude, that they don’t have to face the same challenges I do. I even hope they might work out a bit harder themselves, thankful that they can.

Feeling good and strong and healthy takes effort. But it’s got a great pay off in the long run. I plan to be around for my kids, many decades from now, because of the time I put in at the gym. Sometimes it takes more effort, and more prep time, to pull it off, with this metal leg. But it will always be worth it. I made this decision so I could have more options in mobility. It’s full of potential. I just need to make the move, and grab it.

Health and Fitness Week at GeekMom


Better Each Day: Jessica Cassity’s 365 Expert Tips for a Healthier, Happier You

It is ironic that I am the one writing the introduction to GeekMom’s “Health and Fitness Week,” because with all of the things that I can claim legitimate geek cred for, “health geek” is not one of them. I regularly indulge my salt and chocolate cravings, often drink half a carafe of coffee before heading off to one of my two sedentary part-time jobs, and like GeekMom Ellen, I like to stay up late and sleep odd hours. What’s more, I definitely don’t exercise enough: I always feel so serene and refreshed immediately after a yoga class at my local Y–and yet, that doesn’t translate into anything more than sporadic attendance. In the interim, my clothing shrinks and buckles.

Beyond a bit of clutziness, I have no excuse. I do not live with physical handicap like our bionic GeekMom, Judy. Nor do I have preschool children requiring constant attention like GeekMom Sophie. I just haven’t made health and fitness a priority. And yet: I want to fit into my “skinny clothes” in two months for the “Geek Family’s Guide to the Movies” panel at South by Southwest

I know that lasting change happens slowly, one modification at a time. I’m currently making my way through former Prevention magazine fitness editor Jessica Cassity’s new “tip a day” book Better Each Day, and while I think it is fascinating to understand the science behind effective health and fitness regimens–while it is, for instance, really cool to know that studies have shown that “working out in a group may actually make exercise feel easier” or that “250 milliliters of beetroot juice is as effective at lowering blood pressure as one commonly prescribed medication,” I have trouble, personally, in practically applying that knowledge in such a way that I get off of my couch and out moving.

It is a (frickinfrackinbrickinbrackin) journey. In the meanwhile, as I work to amp up my activity level, I’m also trying to appreciate the way that I look today and take to heart the words of Jennifer Siebel Newsom. Newsom is the director of the documentary Miss Representation, a film that “exposes how American youth are being sold the concept that women and girls’ value lies in their youth, beauty and sexuality,” and in her most recent weekly action alert she says:

Often, when we think about health, we fall into conversations around weight and physical appearance (just browse the covers of so called “health” magazines). By focusing so heavily on our looks – especially in a media climate that celebrates such dangerous ideals of beauty – we risk neglecting our own true inner health and safety.

One of the first steps to addressing this is actually looking at the language we use to describe “being healthy.” Not just in our heads, but when talking with others. Something as innocent as a compliment – “you look skinny” or “you look great” – can contribute to this obsession with weight and looks.

This week’s action is simple: try avoiding complimenting anyone on their physical appearance for an entire week, including yourself. No conversations about losing weight or being pretty. Instead, tell the loved ones in your life how smart they are, how you admire their confidence or even just how happy they seem! Celebrate the talents and abilities of those around you without mentioning appearance.

By shifting the way we talk about this subject we can begin to shift the entire mindset around what it means to be healthy. This is the year we stop judging ourselves and others by what is in the mirror, and instead see in everyone the same potential for greatness.

I suspect, somewhere between complacency and cardio, self-acceptance and self-pity, I can learn to inhabit my personal health and fitness “sweet spot.” How about you, GeekMom readers? What healthy changes are you hoping to make in the new year? What do you feel you are doing right to keep yourself healthy, both physically and emotionally? Are there any health and fitness topics you’d like to see more of here at GeekMom? We’d love for you to leave your thoughts in the comments!