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How do you measure up? New health gadgets can tell you

3:56 PM, Jan 5, 2014   |    comments
THE SKULPT AIM: The Skulpt Aim is the first-ever wireless device to quickly and non-invasively measure the composition and quality of muscles. Aim is currently available for pre-order at www.skulpt.me/preorder. (Photo: Skulpt)
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By Julia Savacool
Special for USA TODAY

If it's January, it must be resolution time: that once-a-year phenomenon where Americans vow to do good things for themselves, like lose weight, get in shape and lower stress in their lives.

If it's January, it also must be time for CES - the once-a-year Consumer Electronics Show extravaganza in Las Vegas this week, where in 2014, 3,200 exhibitors will showcase innovative, new products for an expected crowd of 150,000 people.

One of the fastest-growing areas for new products: digital health and fitness devices, geared toward helping people tackle those New Year's resolutions head-on. "We've seen dramatic growth in this category," says Karen Chupka, senior vice-president of international CES and corporate business strategy. "In 2013, we had 169 companies showing in the digital health and fitness category. This year, we have 215 - a 40% increase."

The interest has been building for a while. The 2013 numbers were about 30% higher than the year before that as well, according to Chupka. A big reason for the boom: Better sensor technology. What started 15 years ago with fitness companies creating basic pedometers has evolved into companies selling sophisticated heart rate monitors, GPS wristwatches and foot pods to help people work out more efficiently to reach their weight loss and health goals. "There's been a continuous evolution of sensor technology," says Chupka. "Today's sensors are smaller than ever, but with greater sensitivity. They are more cost-effective as well."

Skulpt Aim is one product taking full advantage of the improved sensor capabilities. Founded by Harvard Medical School professor Seward Rutkove and MIT engineer Jose Bohorquez, the device measures body fat and muscle quality simply by pressing against the skin. Smaller than an iPhone and light enough to be stored in a gym bag, the company is betting the Skulpt Aim will be a huge hit with the fitness market. The device has already earned recognition as an International 2014 CES Innovations Honoree for the Health and Fitness product category.

But beyond technological advances, manufacturers believe there is a deeper reason the category of D.I.Y. health and fitness devices continues to grow: A growing desire from consumers to not only understand their personal health situation, but to take control of it. "It used to be that when you were not feeling well, you'd go to one doctor for help, and then maybe another doctor for a second opinion," says Deborah Rozman, president and CEO of HeartMath Inc, a company that creates devices to monitor and regulate your emotional responses. "Now, with all the information available immediately to people on the Internet, there's a sense of being able to educate yourself. Consumers feel empowered to take control of their own health, and they are seeking out devices that allow them to do that more effectively."

At CES, HeartMath and other companies are banking on their belief that consumers want to do more than simply monitor blood pressure or keep track of glucose levels. The newest players in the digital health space are convinced that people want help navigating the world of emotional wellness as well. A slew of new apps and their accompanying sensor technologies focus on getting people to relax, ease stress and manage anxiety. "Our mission is not only to help people identify their emotional responses in various situations, but to take control of them," says Rozman, whose InnerBalance app aims to retrain the way the body responds to stress.

So how helpful are the latest batch of self-regulating devices? Very, if you want to beat depression, lose weight, reduce stress or improve your fitness level. The one thing you still can't get from technology however: Motivation. These apps only work if you actually get yourself to use them.

Among products debuting at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas:

HeartMath This app measures your mood - and promises to improve your "well-being, vitality, clarity of thought, access to your heart's intuition, and a more balanced response to stress." Now who wouldn't want that?!http://www.heartmath.com/innerbalance/

ICEBlueButton Makes your medical history available via your mobile device to doctors anywhere, anytime. Avoid potentially life-threatening ER mix-ups with this simple app that also sends an emergency email with your location to your listed contact upon activation.http://www.icebluebutton.com

iHealthLabs From glucose monitoring to tracking your sleep quality, this company is there to help you monitor just about every aspect of your personal health. http://www.ihealthlabs.com

Myithlete New heart rate technology tells exercise enthusiasts when to train hard and when to recover by measuring the gap between heartbeats while the body is resting. http://myithlete.com

Skulpt Aim Measure body fat and composition simply by holding this wireless device up to parts of the body. Great for those trying to get in shape, but you'll have to wait until May to get it, since the device is still in prototype form.www.skulpt.me

Alcohoot The first-ever police-grade breathalyzer that works by plugging a small, transportable box into your iPhone via the headphone jacks. Flunk the test? The app will call you a cab so you don't have to get behind the wheel. (Of course, whether you're sober enough to remember to use it is another question.)http://www.alcohoot.com

94fifty Calling all b-ball fans: Improve skills like shooting, passing and dribbling via a sensor placed inside a regulation-sized basketball. After your session, download the data onto your mobile device to see where your game can be improved.www.infomotionsports.com

USA Today

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