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Heart Rate, Hippies and Healthy Ageing

Wearable Technology icons

I see that the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual survey of global fitness trends has been published (1). Personally, I didn’t think there were any real shocks and I wasn’t at all surprised to see that ‘wearable technology’ came in (as last year) at number 1. According to the survey, published in the November/December (2016) issue of ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, ‘wearable technology’ includes activity trackers, smartwatches, heart rate monitors, GPS tracking devices and smart eyeglasses (designed to show maps and track activity)’.

So: not just HRMs and pedometers, then.

Discussing wearable technology with our technical editor, Tony Lycholat, I was surprised by his apparent dismissiveness. Older members might recall that he was behind the incredibly successful Polar Pro Trainer workshop programme in the 1990s and was an ‘early adopter’ of heart rate monitoring technology, effectively taking some of his early applied physiology lab work (starting in the 1980s) into the exercise studio as he attempted to establish the exercise intensity of different types of exercise classes. I also know (and very few people do) that when he worked in Formula 1, he developed a multi-channel human data-logging system, capable of monitoring skin and core temperatures, as well as helmet/head g-forces, and all kinds of other things which I really don’t understand.

Anyway, I thought it odd that he wasn’t jumping up and down and celebrating the triumph of technology. With his head buried in a research journal, he promised to write something about it in that bizarre F-Word column of his in the next issue of Fitpro, due on your doormat in three weeks or so. Whether we’ll be any the wiser is anyone’s guess. Of course, he may simply have finally become the stereotypical, off-grid, old VW campervan driving hippy (without the hair) I’ve always thought he really is!

He did forward me some interesting wearable technology news items though; elements of which I thought I’d share with you. Some of the ideas seem to be that rare thing: good research leading to new wearable technology that not only improves lives, but may also even save them.

Like many people (I think), I hadn’t realised that wearable technology can potentially be used to support healthy ageing and independent living, as well as monitor the health of the elderly. It’s clear that the UK has an ageing population. Indeed, official figures from the office of national statistics (ONS) indicate that by 2039, the number of people aged 75 and over will be 9.9 million or more. Our ageing population is also the reason I’ve been so keen to support the work of the Functional Aging Institute (FAI) through the FitPro workshop programme.

It appears that it won’t be long before it’s possible to provide ‘smart clothes’ with built in sensors for all kinds of things, helping the elderly –and their carers – to monitor chronic conditions, track blood pressure and vital signs, and even warn diabetics when they are most at risk of foot ulcers.

Whilst some of these advances are at the prototype or start-up stage, others are not. I see that at Salford University, they’ve established the Salford Institute for Dementia (SID). As part of their work, SID researchers are studying the use of movement trackers which give dementia patients and the people who look after them, highly useful information about patient activity. This information, linked to a patient’s typical and atypical movement patterns, will hopefully provide evidence that in turn leads to better care. The SID researchers are also developing a more efficient, body-worn falls detection system based on posture measurements.

It all sounds very exciting, even if there are some ethical questions to be answered. I’ll be keeping an eye on this type of research and will be sure to report back, particularly if I can see practical applications and educational opportunities for FitPro members.

This has been my first ever blog… and it’s much harder to do than I thought! Feel free to comment below or email me with your thoughts and questions at publish@fitpro.com.

Reference

1. http://journals.lww.com/acsm-healthfitness/Fulltext/2016/11000/WORLDWIDE_SURVEY_OF_FITNESS_TRENDS_FOR_2017.6.asp