Maybe you've heard: Americans are becoming less fit and more fat. There are all kinds of theories about why — bigger meal portions, omnipresent corn syrup and sugar, fewer pickup stickball games after school. But people are starting to think that in many cases, body weight might somehow be linked to diet and exercise.
Now, studies have shown that if there's sore visible, omnipresent monitor of your negative behaviour — spending too much money, eating too much food, using too much power in your home — you're far more likely to correct it.
That's the idea behind personal activity-tracking bracelets like the Nike FuelBand ($150) and the improved Jawbone Up band ($130). They make you constantly aware of how active you are (or aren't). They let you compare your data with friends online, establishing a friendly rivalry or at least guilt. And they therefore motivate you to make changes that add up: park farther away, take the stairs, get off one bus stop early.
There are plenty of other fitness trackers, including clip-onto-clothing trackers (like the FitBit and Striiv) and wristwatchlike gadgets (like Motorola's MotoActiv). But the beauty of the bracelets is that you can leave them on — asleep, in the shower, shirtless or even all three — and so you're more likely to stick with the program.
Now, those who follow the wearable, accelerometer-based fitness-tracking gadget industry are no doubt scratching their heads right about now.
The Up band? Wasn't that a bracelet that came out about a year ago, and crashed and burned in a humiliatingly public epidemic of hardware failures? Didn't Jawbone, a company known for Bluetooth speakers and earpieces, pull Up off the market, offering a generous mea culpa ("You can receive a full refund for UP. This is true even if you decide to keep your UP band")?Yes.
The company says that after months of testing and millions of dollars in research, it realised that the original band, billed as waterproof, actually wasn't quite. Water, sweat and shower soap managed to seep inside and short out the components.
The new Up band, the company swears, is bulletproof. Or at least really, truly waterproof. The company says it redesigned 17 parts and made 28 improvements in the manufacturing process.
The new band looks identical — it's still a stiff, rubber, overgrown C in a choice of colours, with ends that overshoot each other — but inside, it's far better shielded and enclosed. (It's also $30 more expensive.)
The corresponding iPhone app has had some work done, too.
The central conceit is a Facebook-style timeline of your life. Each "post" represents a day's worth of activity, or a night of sleep, or a meal. (You can enter nonstep-based workouts manually, like biking or weights.) Your friends' health developments can show up in your stream, too.
That doesn't mean that the app is ready for its close-up. It's fairly baffling, housing as it does duplicate hidden menus, and it has its share of bugs and quirks. Why, on a screen that's much taller than it is wide, are your progress graphs inch-tall bars swimming in empty space? And wow — if you did a sit-up every time you got the "Sorry, there was an error connecting with the UP server" message, you'd have abs of concrete. (An Android app is in the works.)
What's great, though, is that the Up's ambitions extend beyond simple activity tracking. If you do a double press on the button at the end of the band when you go to bed, for example, the bracelet does an impressive job of tracking your night of sleep: how long it takes you to drift off, how many times you wake up, how many hours you spend in light and deep sleep.
A related, extremely useful feature: when you need a power nap (a 25-minute quick sleep, whose refreshing qualities have been well documented in studies), the band doesn't start counting until it sees that you're actually asleep.
So you actually get 25 minutes, after