Surprisingly, I found the armband easier to wear than I expected. Perhaps, this is because I occasionally wear a heart monitor at various times, which I find uncomfortable and irritating. About the only irritation I encountered with the armband was removing it from its housing the first time. I thought I was applying pressure in the correct place, but I couldn’t remove it to plug in the USB sync cable. I did find a great video on their site that showed me where to push. I would suggest people check out the Getting Started video as it fully covers the set up process. That page also includes additional tutorials.
One question people asked me was whether I was worried about the armband showing. The short answer is “no”. I worry about things like extra inches on my waist. However, I should admit that I’m not one who worries about fashion. My idea of dressing up is blue jeans and pearls. If size matters to you, there is a newer armband called the CORE that is about 30% thinner, but it is not Bluetooth enabled.
Website Activity Manager
Your main stats page is very nicely laid out. Once you log into the activity manager, you’ll see your dashboard or summary page. Across the top, you have a menu bar (1) outlining the major sections. To the right, you have a Notifications indicator (2). This is used to let you know of your “personal bests” or new features. Below that is the Date header (3) which defaults to today’s date, but you can move to specific days.
The main focus is feedback on your Target goals (4) and Actual results (5) for each of the focus areas. You can quickly see your progress in each area. In some areas, you also have a progress bar (6). And with the recent update to Activity Manager 3.5, you can now import your heart monitor data (7) from various Garmin products.
Even though I was using the Bluetooth armband, I still needed to sync the device using the USB cable to get current data unless I used my smartphone. In the early part of the testing I would sync multiple times a day to see my progress. Later on, I found myself syncing less as I was learning more about my activity burn.
With the latest update, the system provides interim feedback messages to you when you hover over the Calories Burned section even if you haven’t synced. The system predicts what your calorie burn will be and if you will be over or under. This is a great motivator and there were times when I adjusted my activity or meals to keep within target.
Main Dashboard Sections
There are eight main sections on the Dashboard page. Most sections can be expanded to show more data by clicking the downward pointing triangle. These include:
- Calories Burned
- Calories Consumed
- Calorie Balance
- Physical Activity
- Steps Taken
- Sleep Duration
- Heart Rate (optional)
With the exception of the optional heart rate data, each category has a target value and actual value. In some cases you’ll also see a horizontal progress bar that adjusts as you sync or enter data. The TARGET values are determined by your profile and your goals. As example, my numbers are probably less than many people as I’m shorter and weigh less. The ACTUAL column represents what the BodyMedia armband recorded.
This section is one of the more interesting ones within the software. When you click the down arrow to expand the section you get a timeline for the day that indicates the calories that you burn per minute as well as your average METS. In my case, anything above 6 METS was logged as “vigorous” activity. You may also adjust the timeline by using the slider feature. This allows you to see calories burned between certain time durations like when you were at the gym.
The nice thing about this feature is that it allows you to easily see your active times if you’re wearing the armband. The downside is certain activities such as swimming would require you to remove the armband because the device isn’t waterproof. In these instances, you can use the Edit Off Body feature and log those activities.
I have to say that the BodyMedia armband did a very good job of estimating caloric expenditure. Although it differed from other devices such as the Garmin heart monitor, FitBit Ultra or smart tag exercise equipment, I think it was the most consistent of the devices that I used when all activities are factored.
It’s also a device that has been tested in various activity monitor studies as reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The company states that the device is 90% accurate, which is probably the best you’re going to get without undergoing expensive VO2 type testing.
This section has two parts. The first part provides slots for 6 meals and a line item for each food with its major nutrient info. The meals include:
The info is then subtotaled by meal. I found the food database to be pretty comprehensive and you can enter recipes.
The software does learn from your entries. For example, once you’ve entered a food several times, it displays on the My Frequently Used Foods list. The list is a quick way to add entries to a meal. The program also allows you to “skip a meal” or indicate you ate the same items as a previous meal. You can also drag and drop items between meals.
One nit I found was in the food search. Specifically, when I entered a new food, I would also include the manufacturer such as “fiberful (Trader Joes)”. If I searched for “Trader Joes”, nothing would come up. I needed to either add the left parenthesis or use “Joes”
An important takeaway I realized was that to gain the best from the system, I should plan my meal(s) in advance. Otherwise, I had the tendency to do what was easy as opposed to what was best. It's much easier to get a prepared meal, then to cook. Typically, when I went the convenience route, I also went over my calorie allotment.
A second lesson I learned is that if you prepare a lot of your meals, you need to factor in all ingredients. It’s easy to forget secondary ingredients like olive oils and seasonings.
The second part of the Calories Consumed section shows the overall nutrition facts. While it does capture the info on major items, it may not reflect all your nutrients if you ate custom foods that day. A “custom food” is one you enter into the database. When you enter in new food items, you don’t have fields for all the nutrients, but the major ones shown on food labels.
If you look at the screen snap below, you’ll see some of the micronutrient fields are missing. My guess is this is done for our convenience, but it may pose an issue for someone that needs to track something like folate and has entered in custom foods they eat on a regular basis. Maybe in a future version the company could add an optional advanced panel for people that need to track such items.
The program also has some intelligence built into the Create a Custom Food panel. You’ll see where it has alerted me to a mistake I made when entering the data.
There were two items that I wish the program had that are found in FitBit. The first is a simple way to track water. Although you can enter water into this program, it hasn’t been separated out like it is in the other program.
I was also surprised that the program didn’t have a daily journal feature. I’m not a journaling person, but there were times where I wanted to write about my various food choices. The closest option I saw was the ability to add a comment on my Personal Bests page.
This line item is a quick tally of where you stand based on what you’ve eaten and your activity. Your Target Calories is determined by the settings you entered when establishing your goals. The number will be constant until you change your goal. The Actual number is a simple calculation of your Actual Calories Burned – Calories Consumed. When used in conjunction with the calories burned projection, this can be a great tool to see if you’re on course.
I found this feature to be useful in planning dinner. By the afternoon, I had a good idea of how close I would be to my target. I would then plan dinner and add in those food items beforehand to see in advance if I would still make my goal. In the screen shot above, I knew I had expended more calories than my target so I decided I could allow myself some more calories.
Apart from monitoring your food intake, the program does a great job of monitoring your physical activity. Within the goals section, you can also indicate time targets. In my case, my primary goal was to be more active as opposed to weight loss. My targets are 60 minutes of Moderate Activity and 15 minutes of Vigorous activity.
As you can see in this example, it’s easy to see when I wasn’t active. It was also interesting to note what was classified as “vigorous” wasn’t necessarily the items I thought I exerted more effort. As example, my brisk walks might be classified as vigorous, but not when I was doing a circuit on weight machines.
Like the Physical Activity monitor above, the program graphically displays your steps by hour. The program determines the steps based on the accelerometer in the armband. It doesn’t record your distance, gait, flights of stairs, or speed.
In my testing with the FitBit Ultra on a measured track, the two devices were within 5% and the BodyMedia armband was always the lesser of the two. I don’t think this should be a factor unless you’re in some competition with someone else who uses a different measurement system.
While the BodyMedia armband doesn’t give me a detailed sleep analysis like my Zeo Sleep Manager, it provides answers to questions such as:
How much sleep did I get?
Did I meet my sleep goal?
How many hours was I lying down?
One item I appreciated was that I didn’t need to do anything different to record sleep activity. It was all covered by the armband. If I got up in the middle of the night to work, the armband adjusted just as it did if I took an afternoon nap. The armband also seems to have enough smarts to determine when I’m reading in bed versus being asleep.
This section allows you to enter in your weight and waist measurements. I like the feature and visual representation, but I wish it also allowed users to enter in custom measurements like body fat% like FitBit.
When I first started this testing, my intent wasn’t to lose weight. If you’ve read my other posts, this quest started because I wanted to improve my sleep and energy. As you can see from the graph above, I did lose weight. More important to me, I changed my body composition.
This feature was included in the 3.5 software release. The section is optional and currently works with specific Garmin heart monitors. It’s not really a feature I can comment on too much other than to say I was able to import the data. I don’t train with a heart monitor, but I can see the value if you do.
I did have difficulty at first finding my results when I had multiple sessions on the same day. Fortunately, tech support helped me out. In the screen snap above, I have two sessions with activity. The second one is represented by the tiny grey thumbnail to the left of the arrow.
Additional BodyMedia Sections
Last Updated (Saturday, 17 December 2011 22:40)