Does technology designed to get us fit actually work?

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If you asked me to divide technology up into categories, I think the four largest ones would be transportation, entertainment, ways to kill each other, and weight loss or fitness devices. But the proliferation of weight loss gadgets doesn't necessarily mean they're effective. Will technology help you shed those unwanted pounds?

The question is too broad for a simple answer. Some technology can be extremely useful if you want to lose weight. A scale, for example, is instrumental in keeping track of your progress -- or lack thereof. Other types of technology might not live up to the promises made by the manufacturer. A product that claims to reduce fat in a specific part of your body is one to view with skepticism -- studies show that such spot-reduction techniques are, at best, minimally effective.

Let's take the weight loss technology category and divide it into subcategories. There are gadgets designed to help you exercise, such as treadmills and weight machines. Then there are devices that help you track caloric intake and physical activity. There are also lots of gadgets out there that supposedly help you lose weight passively. These we can dismiss as "too good to be true." Exercise equipment can be a powerful weight loss tool when used properly and regularly. But just owning an exercise machine won't magically give you the body you want. It's going to take consistent effort to get results. Some machines are simple to use -- once they're assembled. Others may require you to have a trainer show you the right way to use the machine safely and effectively.

While devices that track your activities and caloric intake sound passive, in reality they may help you lose weight more than a gym full of exercise equipment. That's because tracking what we eat and how much we exercise is both a motivator and an easy way to spot why a particular routine is or isn't working. There's no real secret to losing weight -- it's a combination of eating the right diet and getting enough exercise. Tracking devices help you adjust your meals and activity level to achieve your goal.

A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine encouraged subjects to attend group sessions, keep a record of caloric intake and engage in moderate exercise on a regular basis. The results were telling -- people who attended the sessions and kept a journal were more likely to lose weight than those who didn't. Perhaps being more conscious of our choices helps us select the best options and stick to a weight loss plan.

In the end, gadgets are only going to give you more options to get into shape. You'll still have to do the rest of the work yourself. Tracking technology could give you the information you need to stay motivated and avoid slipping into bad habits. Remember to consult a physician before undertaking a diet and exercise program. And be sure you get the proper instruction for any exercise machines you'll be using.