With Christmas just around the corner, people will be considering adding some of the latest wearable gadgets to their shopping list. Currently on the market are Samsung’s Galaxy Gear and Gear Fit, Android Wear, Fitbit’s Charge and Jawbone Up24, with Microsoft’s Band and the Apple Watch being released soon.
Developers of these wearable gadgets want us to believe that their products have the ability to turn us into fitness bunnies.
This could be particularly appealing to people who have their new year’s resolutions in mind. Typically getting fit, taking more exercise and being healthier features on many people’s lists. In fact, last year wanting to do more exercise and improve fitness was found to be people’s top new year’s resolution.
So can these gadgets really help us to keep our health and fitness resolutions?
Although there are some merits to such devices, their potential health and fitness benefits appear to be overstated. If you are thinking of investing in a wearable gadget this Christmas solely on the promise of it helping you to become super-fit, you might want to think again.
To answer the question of whether a wearable gadget can really help you to stick to your aims of getting fitter and healthier, you have to examine the core health and fitness features offered by such devices.
Wearable technology devices share two common key features. Collecting health and fitness data and then making sense of the data, either through the applications on the devices themselves or by pairing the device to a mobile phone or desktop computer.
Most wearable gadgets include data collection apps that can help us track how many steps we’ve taken in a day and monitor our heart-rate and sleep patterns. But do these functions really help us to get fit?
Tracking your steps can be a really helpful way to make you more aware of the energy you spend or the amount of exercise you do. However, does this information actually encourage you to take more steps, run more and do more exercise?
This really depends on the individual. Health-conscious users may benefit from the self-reflection that comes from such data. However, I doubt that just knowing how many steps you have taken would be enough to motivate the average person to get off the sofa and start exercising.
Secondly, tracking your heart rate can be a good way to tell you about when you are most stressed or highlight that you need to work on your fitness – particularly if it shows that you are struggling going up several flights of stairs.
However, simply highlighting situations where people struggle physically may have the exact opposite effect and push them towards avoiding such situations – taking the lift instead, for example.
The ability to monitor your sleep pattern is perhaps one of the most useful functions of wearable technology, as you can see if and when you had a deep, restful sleep. While this is great, a wearable gadget can’t help identify why is this happening and how to get better sleep. To do that you would have to examine the data more closely.
So the important issue is making sense of the data, which is the other half of the core health and fitness features offered by wearable tech products. Collecting data (provided that data is actually accurately captured and the device is worn most of the time), may help with reflecting on your current fitness – or lack of it.
But what is more crucial is doing something useful with that data. This is the point where most wearable gadgets currently fall short.
So what is needed is a re-design on how wearable tech products make sense of that data. The devices need to move towards influencing users’ behaviours, by transforming the insights gained into actions that would have a positive impact on their health and fitness. For this to work, there is a need for all data and applications currently available in a wearable device to work together and make meaningful personalised suggestions based on all the available data.
For example, wouldn’t it be great if your wearable gadget could tell you that you need to drink more water one hour before going to sleep, as being dehydrated can often lead to not sleeping well. Or, if it was able to advise you that keeping to a specific exercise regime for a week, would enable you to go up the stairs more comfortably. Maybe your product could even tell you to take a break from your desk and go for a five minute walk as your stress levels are high.
Clearly, it is still early days for the wearable gadgets that claim to deliver a paradigm shift in health and fitness. However, despite their flaws there are some promising first steps and I hope for more to come in the future.
If you are a technology enthusiast or a health-conscious person thinking of adding one of the gadgets on your Christmas shopping list, then such devices may be a helpful reflective tool to complement your fitness regime.
However, you need to remember that currently it is up to you to make sense of the data collected and ultimately you have to transform the information provided by the device into daily actions, which you then follow through.
If, on the other hand, you are an average person, like me, then wearable gadgets will not be the Christmas miracle that will help you keep this new year’s resolution of getting healthier and fit.[Guardian.com]