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Fitness Goes Hi-Tech to Help Americans Lose Weight - 2004-02-11

Americans want to be fit, but two-thirds of us are overweight. Many point to television and the Internet as the driving forces behind those ever-increasing waistlines. It's estimated that Americans spend nearly 4 hours a day in front of the television. The technology that brought us TV and other passive entertainment is now being employed to help Americans get fit.

Like watching television, surfing the web is a pretty passive activity. Perhaps your index finger gets a workout when you click on a link, but that's about it, unless the link you click on is The free website promises to help anyone improve their diet and monitor their progress.

Russell Determan, one of FitDay's creators, explains that the site then analyzes the menu. "The basic idea is that you would enter the foods you eat each day," he says. "We will tell you how many calories you ate, how many carbs you ate, how much fat, your vitamins and minerals. We can provide all that information for you based on the foods you enter."

Whether you enter low-fat foods, low-carb foods, or the all-grapefruit diet, can crunch the numbers.

"People will say that with the help of FitDay that they were finally able to take control of their diet and lose the weight. They find it much easier to use fitday, because it provides the exact counts for the day. So it takes the guesswork out of the process," Determan explains.

The website has been so successful, Mr. Determan is selling a software program based on the model. And while keeping track of calories and carbs certainly helps you stay fit, getting enough exercise is just as important, if not more so. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, seven in ten American adults don't exercise regularly. It's not as much fun as playing a video game or watching football on TV. But with a little help from technology, companies like IKON Health and Fitness are betting that exercise equipment can become so entertaining that more Americans will add a workout to their daily schedules. IKON's iFit technology adds new features to standard fitness equipment, like treadmills, stair-climbers and stationary bicycles.

Carlos Mena, a salesman at one of IKON's Nordic Track Stores, is getting his workout right now on one of these 'smart' treadmills. It has a built-in CD player that not only plays music CDs, but can run software to, for example, control the speed or incline of the treadmill.

"iFit also gives you forty or fifty programs that you can try to see which ones you like. Also, you can sign up for about $20 a month," he says.

That subscription allows you to download more exercise programs off the iFIT website. The iFit equipment can also measure your fitness level and heart rate as you work out.

"If you think about it, it's like having your own personal trainer right there with you. If you use the system consistently, it will work for you. It's been proven. You just have to do it," says Mr. Mena.

Powergrid Fitness in Laurel, MD has taken a decidedly different approach to computer-related fitness. Its exercise equipment, the Kilowatt, is basically a giant joystick. While that may appeal to those interested in a non-traditional workout, Kilowatt inventor Philip Feldman is also targeting a second demographic - video game players.

"If you play games, the tendencies are that you are a male and that you have a wife or girlfriend that thinks when you're playing games that you're a total loser," he says. "Now with this, you say, 'But honey I'm working out!' And it's true! So instead of just getting somebody who is sitting on the couch and playing video games, you get somebody who works out regularly - an hour or two a day - and somebody with shoulders, arms and abs when they're done. So it has benefit."

The Kilowatt joystick is about a meter tall and takes both hands and a good deal of effort to move as you play a video game. It's not designed to work your cardiovascular system. Instead, the Kilowatt provides a type of strength training called isometric exercise, which is similar to weight lifting.

After watching Mr. Feldman and some of the other employees at Powergrid play games using the Kilowatt joystick, I couldn't resist giving it a try myself.

Feldman: You should feel it in your arms, and you should feel it in your abs.

Reporter: Yeah and it's actually not overly sensitive. I was expecting it to be jumpy, but it's pretty good.

Feldman: Basically, what we did is we have strain gages, which were developed originally for things like guidance control systems for missiles for the inertial navigation systems. That is the core technology of this thing. So they're incredible sensitive, they've got great range and they basically allow us to have joystick that is far and away better than..."

While isometrics alone are not a complete workout, playing with the Kilowatt is certainly better than getting no exercise at all.

And I can attest that you certainly do feel the workout in your upper body. Besides, what could be more fun than challenging someone to a fighting game where you both can get a great workout, but nobody gets hurt? Except, maybe tomorrow, my arms are going to be really sore!