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CES 2014: The most important health and fitness tech trends

Control a treadmill with Google Glass. Find your fitness age with an "anti-aging" activity-tracking watch. Measure your heart rate variability with a finger cup to see how well you recover from workouts. These are just some of the new ideas on display in the world of fitness and technology at the 2014 International CES.

2013 was a high point for the fitness tech market, especially for general fitness trackers like the Fitbit Force and Nike+ FuelBand. 2014 looks to be a year of many copycat products vying for some angle of differentiation. It'll also be a year of finessing and iteration for existing products, wherein the best of the bunch will continually be one step ahead of all the others with new features, better ways to convey information to users, and more thoughtful ideas for helping people change their habits for the better.

Overall, I noticed three big trends in the fitness technology space: A focus on heart health, ideas crossing the fine line between consumer grade devices and medical devices, and more integration between products.

Heart health

The true innovators in the space seem to be homing in on one detail of fitness – heart health. Heart rate monitors are finally mass producible (and reliable enough to use during high-intensity activity) in form factors other than a chest strap. Many new fitness tech products have heart rate monitors built right into them that can be worn on the wrist now, and one displayed at CES goes right on your forehead.

Heart health is complicated, though, and some companies are starting to create devices to track other facets of the heart, such as heart rate variability. Knowing how quickly the heart recovers can be an indication of health and fitness, so long as developers create apps and dashboards that help users understand the data being collected.

Fitness vs medicine

While at CES this year, I spent my time poring over fitness products as well as medical technologies, and one of the more interesting trends is how the two are becoming closer and closer. Some medical device makers are turning their devices into non-diagnostic tools (the FDA regulates any device that "diagnoses" a patient) that will allow everyone to collect, monitor, and assess more information about themselves and their bodies.

Take Skulpt, for example. This handheld device assesses muscle quality with 12 electrodes that take a reading of muscle tissue and fat through the skin. The application for, say, patients with muscular dystrophy are clear, but it could also be used by anyone trying to build muscle who can't immediately see a change in their body shape but wants some kind of feedback that their exercises are paying off.

Likewise, we're starting to see some best practice consumer electronics design trickle into the medical space to give very clinical equipment a less intimidating appearance. A company called Qardio makes an EKG monitor that looks nothing like the Frankenstein pile of wires and adhesive pads traditionally used. Instead, the QardioCore (pictured above) is a sleek all-white chest strap that looks like a consumer technology product and is easier to put on, too.

The Internet of fitness things

Integration and interoperability were underpinning themes at CES among fitness technologies as well. Devices either have to do it all or be able to play nice with others to enable a complete ecosystem for users to be able to wrap their minds around their entire wellbeing, which includes stress, weight, heart health, sleep, and more.

Exercise equipment maker Technogym announced that some of its treadmills and other products will work with a Google Glass app, meaning Glass wearers will be able to control their workout through voice prompts. They'll also be able to see statistics about their workout in the Glass viewer, and scan barcodes placed on fitness equipment to know what kind of moves they can do. Technogym also announced a wellness tracking ecosystem called MyWellness Cloud, and this can pull data from Withings, Fitbit, MapMyFitness, and RunKeeper.

Fitness for life

The number of companies and amount of competition in the fitness and wellness tech space gives me great hope that we'll continue to see a lot of innovation and integration in this area It's a win-win for everyone, really, if technology can help people better understand their own bodies and health, and it's certainly headed in that direction at a clip.

For a look at trends in other categories from the show, check out: The most important trends which are defining CES 2014.