Choosing a Weight Loss Gadget

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Sun worshippers are already getting ready to bare their beach bodies, which means they'll be trying any number of diets, workout plans and even gadgets that promise to monitor and motivate.

And workout gadgets like heart rate monitors and calorie counters can definitely be more affordable than personal training sessions at the gym, but they may only be worth your money if you’re just starting out or you’re a cardio fanatic.

At least that’s been my experience for the past few weeks. I've been using the Philips DirectLife Activity Monitor, a small device that tracks your activity and estimates that calories you’ve burned based on your activity. You can wear it around your neck, on your belt or in your pocket all day ... even while swimming. And it tracks your activity based on how you move.

Using software you download, you can plug the device into your computer and see how your daily activity level changes throughout the day, the week and even down to the hour and minute. And through the DirectLife Web site, you can connect with a virtual trainer who will give you suggestions, new workout strategies and general encouragement to keep you working toward a 12-week or even up to a two-year fitness goal.

The downside is that the gadget only tracks motion and calculates the number of calories you burn based on your height, weight and sex, but it can’t register how strenuous an activity is.

The DirectLife monitor is a step up from a pedometer but it falls short for me because it doesn’t have a heart rate sensor which would help identify how strenuous an activity is.

And as a lover of resistance training as opposed to the monotony of a treadmill or elliptical trainer, and not being into traditional sports, that’s a problem.

Doing push-ups, abdominal exercises, Pilates, lifting weights, hiking outdoors, and walking a mile carrying a 20-pound backpack are all activities that lift the heart rate beyond what it would be if you were simply walking at an average, steady pace, yet those more strenuous activities can’t be registered correctly on a device like a DirectLife monitor.

But if you’re just starting to be more active and could use a bit of motivation, or if you play a sport that requires a lot of running, or even if you’re a die-hard cardiovascular exerciser looking to get even more active, it could be worth a try.

Otherwise, a gadget that monitors both your activity and your heart rate might be best.

The Garmin (Stock Quote: GRMN) Forerunner 310XT does all that but it goes a step further, using GPS for better accuracy with regard to distance. But at $350, the cost may be prohibitive.

One tier down is the ActiTrainer Personal Activity Monitor, which measures your heart rate, pace, calories burned and distance you’ve traveled. It goes for about $198.

The Philips DirectLife Activity Monitor costs $99 for the monitor and accessories as well as a first four month-membership. After that, membership will cost you $12.50 a month.

But if you want a workout gadget and you’re on a tight budget, even a simple pedometer will do. You can get a basic one for just $2.

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