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Software, Sites to Exercise Fitness Options . . .

January 05, 1998|LAWRENCE MAGID | Lawrence J. Magid can be reached via e-mail at Visit his Web site at or his area on AOL at keyword "Magid."

About the only thing more crowded than stores during December are health clubs in January. Millions of us crowd into gyms hoping to firm up our bodies and shed those pounds we put on during the holiday season. It's also a good month for the multibillion-dollar diet industry.

Well, I've got good and bad news for computer users. The bad news is that typing and moving your mouse burns up only about 20 calories an hour, hardly enough to qualify as an aerobic exercise. The good news is that there are lots of Web sites, newsgroups and software programs that can help you develop and maintain a diet and fitness program.

Most dieting software will help you keep track of what you eat and how much you exercise. But as far as I know, no one has invented a device that will monitor your behavior and enter the information for you. You have to diligently enter all the foods you eat along with your activity levels (and these programs don't come with lie detector modules).

The programs do have databases with the calorie content of thousands of food items, and they can generally estimate the calorie consumption of most workaday or exercise activities. Given these two inputs, the programs do the basic math and help you determine how you're doing in terms of your daily caloric intake and outflow, and will often suggest what you need to do to get and stay on track.

Life Form, from Fitnesoft Inc. (, [800] 607-7637) is a Windows program that does more than just track your food and exercise. It also lets you keep track of any changes in your physical measurements, how you feel on a given day and even key indicators from blood and urine lab tests done by your doctor. The software displays reports and graphs that show your progress (or lack thereof) over time.

The program, which is available at many retail stores, sells for about $40 and has information on 12,000 foods. The company's Web site lets you download a free trial version with information on about 2,000 foods.

Heart Smart from Henning Associates ( is a shareware "nutrition planner" that tracks calories, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, cholesterol and sodium, as well as the calories you'll burn during various activities. I've played with a number of these programs and find this to be the simplest and most elegant of the bunch. It may not have a lot of fancy features, but it takes care of the basics in a way that won't frustrate you so much that you'll end up raiding the refrigerator to calm yourself down.

The program is built around a menu-planning metaphor. You select the day of the week and the foods you plan to eat that day, and the software keeps track of the various nutrients. You can also use it to record the foods you've eaten. The program comes with an activity planner for tracking exercise as well as a simple calculator for helping you set a weight-loss goal, plan your caloric intake and predict how long it will take you to reach your goal.

You can download a free trial version; the fully registered shareware program costs $19.95, plus $2.95 for shipping and handling.

As you might imagine, there are tons of Web sites devoted to food, nutrition, dieting and exercise. You can find hot links to the ones mentioned here and others at

The Mayo Clinic ( offers several pages of information on diet and nutrition, including links to numerous articles covering everything from eating out to selecting a vitamin and mineral regimen. You'll also find a variety of food quizzes to test your knowledge about fast food, fat, sodium and related issues. Take the quizzes and you'll learn, among other things, that deli turkey has as much sodium as ham and that an order of McDonald's "Super Size" fries has 40% of your daily value for total fat.

We've all heard about the food pyramid, but it's not a bad idea to review the government's dietary guidelines. You'll find them along with a picture of the pyramid (suitable for printing) at

The "Ask the Dietitian" Web site ( has an extensive number of questions and answers divided into about 100 categories, from alcohol to zinc. Run by registered dietitian Joanne Larsen, it also has a "Healthy Body Calculator" that determines your proper weight range based on your answers to a few simple questions, and it suggests what you may need to do to get there.

The site from Village has information on all aspects of health. A library contains articles about fat, diet and exercise, and diet and nutrition message boards and chat areas that give people a chance to interact. You'll find this area on AOL at keyword "better health."

Weight Watchers International has a site at to market its weight-control program. Amid all the marketing hype is a free three-day diet plan.

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