Pacific Northwest | October 19, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineOctober 19, home
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The Good Stuff
In the sea of gadgets, some float to the top
Danskin's vinyl-covered, weighted toning balls are portable enough to bring to the office for a desk-side mini-workout.
A FITNESS COLUMNIST gets a lot of stuff to test. I've tried gadgets designed to make me feel better, pay better attention, look better and to workout faster and more easily. Among the creams and gadgets and apparel and flash cards and counters, I found the following the best combination of unique, interesting and, in some cases, even helpful:

Danskin toning balls:

Danskin Fitness Equipment for Women came up with "toning balls" that are cushy, compact, vinyl-covered weights. They come in bright colors and 4-, 6- and 8-pound sizes.

I passed them out to women around the office, seeking their impressions. I realized early that these balls had merit because co-workers began swiping them from each other.

In general, the 4-pounder was considered for beginners only. The 6-pound one got the highest overall mark for fitting into small hands, being easy to hold and fun to exercise with. The 8-pound ball had downsides: "rolls off shelves and too big to palm and too light to do much good when holding in both hands." Upside: "doesn't hurt when I bonk my head like I do with weights." The balls come with exercise instructions.

The Aqua FM Snorkel:

I must admit, I never found National Public Radio so interesting that I needed to take it below the surface with me, but this underwater radio seemed an intriguing idea.

The mouthpiece contains a transistor radio. A wire antenna runs up the snorkel. Through "bone conduction" sound is transmitted through the user's teeth and jawbone.

I got great reception while sitting at my desk, but didn't like the looks I was getting. So I asked co-worker Christy True, an avid swimmer, to test it. She said it worked well in the outdoor pool in Magnolia, but was a bust when she tried it in a basement indoor pool. She compared the sound quality to listening to the radio in an old noisy car with lousy speakers.

"While swimming, the sound is clear enough to understand the dialog on a talk-radio program or to hum along to tunes you already know. Yet the sound is contained enough that nearby swimmers reported they could not hear it."

Shizen Green:

The thought of drinking something green, let alone barley, goes down hard, but this Japanese natural-energy concoction actually helped me start my days.

Shizen Green is a mix of barley grass and green tea. Its maker, Asahi Ryokuken of Japan, say it's a healthy alternative to caffeine, and a .16-ounce packet of the powder is the nutritional equivalent of a full serving of leafy greens or a shot of wheat grass.

I used it as a breakfast substitute, blending it with milk, banana and protein powder. It stuck with me through the morning. The makers suggest two packets a day, but I just went with one. Eventually, I graduated to straight hot tea. What I liked most about Shizen Green was the portability. The portions come in pocket-sized packets.


Among the many products that Bellevue-based iWellness markets to the harried and stressed are weighted shoes designed to make walking a real workout. I tried white high-top tennis shoes that were about 3 pounds apiece.

The idea is that weight on the feet carries a far greater energy load than it does on the torso or in the hands and the greater resistance each step brings means higher heart rate. Some area physical therapists reject the idea behind the shoes, saying they could cause injury if used improperly.

Dr. Donald Miller, cardiac surgeon at the University of Washington Medical School and a designer of the MetaTrek shoes, says they are engineered to spread the weight and support the foot's natural movement. He wears them at work. I've gone for a few long walks with them (don't run!) and have felt an occasional twinge in my hamstrings and lower back.

I never tripped, but for the first few walks, I did feel like Herman Munster.


Imagine Liberace working out.

The FingerWeights slip on your fingers and thumbs. Each is metallic-gold, weighs between 5 and 15 grams, depending on how you adjust it, and is about the size of a beetle. They look like rings and provide varying resistance based on whether you wear them above or below the main knuckles.

The product is tailored to musicians, computer users and folks suffering from arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome, or people just looking to improve flexibility and strength in their hands. They come with exercise instructions, but the makers warn you not to overdo it. My hands are stiff and clumsy, so I enjoyed playing with the gadgets. I actually typed with them. The best part was the looks I got.

Richard Seven is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff writer. Steve Ringman is a Seattle Times staff photographer.

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