Each New Year's Day, we resolve to become leaner, healthier versions of ourselves.
And each year, most of us have written off the gym and the diet books by late January.
You know what Einstein said about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Well, it is insanity. Fortunately, there's a new wave of tools -- from mobile apps to gadgets to games -- to shake up your fitness routine and get you more inspired to change your eating habits.
The great thing about the new health and fitness technology is that it is interactive. In many cases, it's also customized for your age, weight and fitness level. And it helps you track progress in a variety of ways, not just by numbers on a scale.
"Research has shown that people who track [food and exercise] are more likely to follow through," says fitness expert Alice Burron of the American Council on Exercise. She is also author of Four Weeks to Fabulous: Weight Management for Busy People.
That's certainly been the case in my household, where my husband, who would never touch a diet book, lost 50 pounds after he began tracking his food intake through a free iPhone app. This app worked, where other weight loss efforts had failed, because he could track his progress to a customized goal, access nutrition information on the go and log what he ate discreetly.
Do your research, Burron says, and make sure that a gadget or game is not only suited to your personality, but is something you will actually use. If you don't like to exercise alone, for instance, the new crop of fitness video games or apps might not work as well for you as a new boot camp class.
However, if one of these tools works long enough to establish a habit -- or just break you out of a rut -- it's probably worth a try.
Here are some of tech's most promising tools to help you keep your New Year's weight-loss resolution.
Mobile Apps for Your Smartphone
Lose It! for iPhone and iPod Touch (free). This was the app responsible for my husband's substantial weight loss. Use it to set goals, establish a daily calorie budget, look up nutrition information and record your food and exercise daily to stay within that budget. The app also tracks the nutrients in your logged foods so you can see if you are eating the right mix of protein and carbs to fuel your workouts.
Thin-Cam for iPhone (99 cents). If you lack the patience to jot down what you're eating, try this visual food log instead. Rather than inputting meals and snacks by hand, snap a picture of what you're eating and upload your visual diary to Thin-site.com. This strategy works particularly well when you're dining out or at a party. The simple act of taking a picture of your food will keep you honest and make you think twice about that third cookie.
Restaurant Nutrition for iPhone and iPod Touch (free). If you eat out a lot and need to know what you can and can't order to stay on track, this app is for you. Loaded with calorie and nutrition info for 119,000 food items at 115 restaurants, it helps you make good choices and allows you to record them.
iTreadmill Pedometer Ultra with PocketStep or CardioTrainer for iPhone and iPod Touch (99 cents); or CardioTrainer for Android phones (free). These two apps turn the accelerometer on your phone into a sophisticated pedometer. In addition to counting your steps, you can track your average pace, distance and calories burned as you hit the track or just go about your day. Put it in your pocket and forget it until you're ready to stop the count.
Men's Health Workouts for iPhone and Android phones ($1.99 ). Looking for a way to keep fit when you're traveling or can't make it to the gym? Let this app from Men's Health magazine be your personal trainer. Browse 150 individual exercises or choose one of 23 pre-set workouts aimed to help you burn fat and sculpt muscle. A new workout is added monthly.
The exercises are broken down, step by step, in photos. There's a timer for rest periods and a place to log your workouts.
Nike Training Club for iPhone and iPod Touch (free). If the Men's Health workouts are a little too macho for your taste, try Nike's training app for women. But don't think you're getting off easy - there are workouts to test your strength, cardio endurance and flexibility at three different levels. Videos demonstrate the exercises. A new version, which is being released Jan. 1, has an improved interface, lets you choose 15-, 30- and 45-minute workouts and earn badges or get inspiration from Nike athletes and trainers. Another plus: You can work out to your own music.
Digifit system for iPhone (The basic Digifit app is free. If you upgrade to the advanced version, with heart rate monitoring, for $14.99, you'll get the Digifit wireless receiver free. Or, you can download the $14.99 iCardio app and pay $9.99 for the wireless receiver through Amazon.)
This system picks up information from a digital heart rate monitor and transmits it through a receiver to a dashboard in your iPhone or iPod Touch, which allows you to track how hard you are working and how many calories you are burning, as well as the pace, distance and map of your run.
It's also made to receive other health information from a wireless scale, running foot pods and even the Zeo Personal Sleep Coach, which tells you how many Zs you are actually logging by measuring electrical signals from your brain with a headband. (Soon blood pressure monitoring will also be possible with this all-in-one health dashboard.)
Fitbit ($99). This wireless personal trainer, which looks like a binder clip, attaches to your clothes and tracks the number of steps you take, the distance you travel, and the calories you burn and uploads the information to a website. At night, you can put the motion sensor on a wristband to provide an estimate of how much sleep you are getting (based on your movements).
EA Sports Active 2 for Wii, Kinect Xbox 360 and PS3 ($99.95). A whole slew of video games promise to whip you into shape with digital personal trainers and fun activities. My favorite is the EA Sports Active series.
The latest offering, EA Sports Active 2, tracks your movement using leg and arm straps, as well as your heart rate with an attached heart rate monitor. Your heart rate is displayed on screen during the workout so you know whether to kick up or dial down your intensity level.
You can enroll in a nine-week exercise program developed by personal trainers, or pick and choose from more than 70 exercises and activities such as mountain biking, dodge ball and boxing. If you wish, you can track and share your workout data with other users on the interactive website.
Your TV or Computer
If you don't own a smartphone, and a gadget or game isn't your style, why not try something new on your computer or TV? You can stream roughly 100 full-length exercise programs -- from Pilates to power yoga -- from ExerciseTV.tv on your computer. Many of ExerciseTV's programs also can be found on demand from your cable TV or satellite provider.
Likewise, you can access exercise videos, create a diet plan, search for healthy recipes and find other weight-loss support at the free website SparkPeople.com.
So good luck, and get moving!
SecondAct contributor Melinda Fulmer writes regularly about issues of health and wealth for publications such as the Los Angeles Times and web portal MSN.
Read more: 40 (Mostly) Free Ways to Stay Fit