Tech Tools: Got to Move it Move it!

Tech TalkEllie smiling

Welcome to (or back to) Tech Tools, a regular column of The Idaho Librarian devoted to informal discussion of practical technologies. As always, I welcome your comments, ideas, and feedback on this post or other technologies you would like featured in this column.

Got to Move it Move it

I’m sure you’ve heard that “sitting is the new smoking,” a turn of phrase coined by Dr. James Levine, head of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative (McVean, 2014).  Many librarians have jobs that are comprised in large part of desk work, and do not have access to sit-stand workstations, much less the treadmill workstations that Dr. Levine recommends. This makes it difficult to incorporate movement into one’s workday, especially when deadlines loom, and when do they not loom? With that in mind, I’ve reviewed several free online tools to help you get moving throughout the day.

belly dancers
(c) Jeannie Fletcher, some rights reserved.

FitBolt – http://www.fitbolt.com

FitBolt is too that reminds one to do a brief exercise or stretch at regular intervals. For $3/month, the premium version will additionally provide nutrition and ergonomics tips. The FitBolt website provides instructions for integrating with FitBit, RunKeeper, and Daily Mile, though I have not tested this feature.

FitBolt is available as a Chrome or Firefox plug-in, as a desktop application, and as a Web app. There is very little difference between the options, except for where the FitBolt window is viewed.

The browser plug-in option displays an icon next to the address bar, as with any other add-on. The desktop app does the same on the toolbar of your OS – in Windows, this is the bar at the bottom of your screen showing what you have open as well as anything you’ve pinned to it. The Web app displays on a Webpage that is left open while using FitBolt. All of these options are easy to install/launch from the FitBolt Dashboard. For this review, I’m using the Chrome plug-in.

This partial view of the FitBolt user dashboard shows the four ways of using FitBolt on the right.  Settings are on the left.
This partial view of the FitBolt user dashboard shows the four ways of using FitBolt on the right. On the left side of the screen several settings options are shown.

Settings include frequency of exercise reminders, a chime on/off toggle, a browser notifications toggle, and the choice of stretches, quick exercises, or both. Once FitBolt is launched, it isn’t necessary to keep the Dashboard open. The dashboard also displays an area titled “last 7 days use,” but I wasn’t able to get this feature to work.

fitbolt app
The FitBolt icon shown on Google Chrome to the left of my Bit.ly, Pomodoro timer, Pinterest, and Pocket icons. Hovering over the app will display a popup box showing how much time is left before a break.

To use FitBolt, click the icon to see a popup window which includes a countdown to the next exercise session; buttons to pause, do an exercise immediately, and view exercise history; and a link to the user dashboard.

When the timer indicates that it’s time for an exercise session, click the FitBolt app icon to see concise instructions with photos. If you don’t like the stretch/exercise on tap, click the little running man on the top right to generate a new one. All of the stretches and exercises can be done in a small space and do not require equipment.

The FitBolt popup window during an exercise session. The portion above the blue arrow near the top right shows what will display in between exercise sessions.
The FitBolt popup window during an exercise session.

I like the flexibility of being able to set the timing for my breaks and I found it easier to take breaks when assigned a quick exercise. I found that I didn’t lose my focus as much as I do when taking free-form breaks. I recommend FitBolt to those who have trouble taking breaks and find that the extra structure is helpful.

Regular Breaks – https://regularbreaks.com/

Regular Breaks is a super-simple Web-based timer system. After registering for a free account, you can set up breaks by intervals or specific times and track your progress by clicking the chart icon.

regular breaks
Regular breaks is an easy, streamlined break timer.

Changing the settings for your break reminder is easy – just click the gear to the right of the reminder window. Setting up a new break works the same way, but start by clicking the “+Add” link near the top of the screen.

The options for a break reminder are simple, but it does what I need.
The options for a break reminder are simple, but thoughtful.

When it’s time for a break a browser notification (and a sound, if chosen) will alert you to this fact. Click in the browser notification window to record the break, which will allow you to track your progress over time by clicking the graph icon displayed to the right of each reminder.

The browser alert popup for Regular Breaks.
The browser alert popup for Regular Breaks.
To validate a break, move your cursor into the area outlined in gold for 10 seconds. No need to click your mouse.
To validate a break, move your cursor into the area outlined in gold for 10 seconds. No need to click your mouse.

I like the simplicity and usability of Regular Breaks, and appreciate the ability to track progress but I did not find that I was as likely to take breaks without the addition of an exercise reminder. However, because it’s easy to set up multiple breaks of any duration, one could certainly create a program with specific activities scheduled throughout the day. Regular Breaks is a great tool for people who are motivated by seeing progress but don’t want to be told what exercises to do and/or for people who want the flexibility of setting up multiple breaks.

PYV (Protect Your Vision) – http://www.protectyourvision.org/

OK, so the “sitting is killing you” thing isn’t about your vision, but eyes do involve muscles, and staring at a computer screen all day causes eye strain. PYV is a Web-based app that reminds you to take a break from looking at the computer screen for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. There is also an “Eyes Gymnastics” feature, which provides instructions for a series of 4 eye movement exercises.

The PYV screen.
The PYV screen. I’m not sure what the character is supposed to be, but s/he is certainly cute.

No account is required for PYV, just go to the Website and click start. There are three themes to choose from, including Sunny (shown), Space (what it sounds like), and Simple (plain background).

Since PYV is Web-based, your Internet browser must be open while PYV runs. However, it is not necessary that you be using it, since a pleasant alarm reminds you that your eyes need a break. At this point, return to the browser window and choose to take a 20-second break, to have PYV remind you in 3 or 5 minutes, or skip the break. During a break, the computer screen is blacked out, which I found rather soothing.

I like the short breaks (who can’t take a 20 second break, right?) and found it helpful to give my eyes frequent rest. Having more than one app remind me to do do something got to be a bit much, so I would suggest choosing one break reminder, and using it as a reminder to move your body and your eyes.