With the Plusnet Yorkshire Half Marathon–Sheffield right around the corner, we decided to take a closer look at what kinds of wearable technology are helping us train right now, what advancements are being developed, and what we can expect from wearables in the future.
The half marathon takes place on Sunday 10th April at 9.30am. Starting at Arundel Gate and finishing way over on Pinstone Street, our runners are sure to be putting their bodies to the test in preparation for the big day. One thing that has greatly helped our ability to keep fit is the progression of wearable technology.
Since the days of Lycra bodysuits and exercise bands, we’ve been happy to get physical and exercise at home. However, developments in the field of wearable technology mean we’re now able to track our own health on an unprecedented level. One in seven Brits owns a piece of wearable technology, with fitness based devices making up almost two thirds of wearable devices sold in the UK last year.
Whether out for a run or making sure we’re getting enough sleep, activity trackers are available to record our long-term habits and to help us make healthy adjustments. Often the technology will suggest the improvements itself, and quantifying our activity helps reach our fitness goals one day at a time.
What Do We Use?
Basic pedometers have evolved into fitness trackers which monitor steps, distance, elevation and your heart’s activity. These trackers most commonly take the form of smartwatches or wristbands, and a variety of apps can be installed to keep you entertained while exercising. The majority of today’s wearables carry a 3-axis accelerometer and a gyroscope for measuring your orientation and rotation. These core mechanics are refined constantly to become more accurate with each new generation of devices.
Though many wearables carry the basic step counting and heart monitoring software, there is still a great range of features several trackers use to become a part of your life and measure your training more accurately. Battery life is an incredibly important feature, as devices should last from the moment you step outside until the end of the day. The Withings Go tracker has a stripped down design that gives real-time feedback and a battery that lasts up to eight months.
The Moov Now device takes a more active approach, becoming a personal coach by giving real-time audio feedback on your workout based on readings from its 9-axis motion sensing system. It also tracks ‘active minutes’ rather than steps and distance, showing there are devices to match all of your fitness goals. Almost all wearables sync with an associated smartphone app and iPhones already carry a standard ‘Health’ app, meaning everyone has a wealth of tangible data to reflect and act upon when choosing to up their exercise.
What Are We Creating?
Many wearable devices are external sensors that you wear on top or underneath your clothing and this ‘accessory’ status leaves the device prone to eventual abandonment. In 2015, Endeavour Partners found that one third of consumers who owned a wearable device stopped using it within six months. Therefore, companies are constantly working to integrate wearable technology directly into actual garments, rather than relying on a consumer’s regular use of an accessory.
Komodo Technologies are developing the AIO Smart Sleeve, the world’s first activity tracking and health monitoring compression sleeve. This sleeve will carry an electrocardiogram (ECG) to measure the electrical activity of your heart. Continuous ECG monitoring is only possible by gathering data from two points of your body that are far enough apart. Usually, this isn’t possible with standard activity trackers, so the AIO’s relatively unique system that uses an electrode placed at the bicep and another placed at the wrist.
Sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, as your body’s ability to recover is just as important as how far you can push it. Many wearables measure your sleep patterns, but Kokoon headphones aim to improve the quality of your sleep. The headphones mould to your head’s shape and adjust the audio played while sleeping to make sure you aren’t disturbed. They also measure your deep, REM and light sleep to give you a sleep score each night.
What Should We Expect?
As always, we can’t always know if the technology developed today is going to break into the mass market. In-clothing sensors can pave the way for greater analytics in sports science, but the willingness of consumers to spend more on inbuilt technology remains to be seen. Still, that can’t stop us wondering what the future will bring in the world of wearable fitness technology.
Virtual Reality seems to be knocking on the door of the gaming market, with Sony and Microsoft announcing their own VR hardware. The same technology could also revolutionise the way we exercise at home. New, virtual environments could surround us as we run on enhanced treadmills, eliminating the monotony that can hamper home exercise. It could also mimic training personnel and, paired with analytical sensors, could create a fitness-based artificial intelligence to guide you through training sessions.
‘Tech tattoos’ are another piece of technology we expect to be a mainstay of future fitness. Prototypes of biometric sensors have been developed which are applied to the body in the same way as temporary tattoos. These sensors would have a year-long lifespan and continuously send the information it gathers directly to your doctor. They also minimise the physical presence of the technology which could potentially counteract the device abandonment many health trackers succumb to.
We spoke to Dhruvin Patel, founder of Ocushield and healthcare enthusiast, about what he expects from the wearable fitness technology of the future:
“I believe wearable technology will become embedded within us (as long as it is ethical and safe to do so, of course). We should expect chips implemented on or into our skin, allowing us to monitor body levels such as blood glucose and cholesterol. We've already seen reports of Google developing something similar with contact lenses.”
“Fitness technology needs something that combines the nutritional side of things to the effect it has to one’s personal weight and body dynamics. Everyone’s body is different, meaning what we eat and how we exercise has variable results on us all. Technology which helps customers find what works specifically for them is essential.”
As wearable technology continues to evolve, we’re excited to see how it will change the way we exercise and stay healthy. While we’re counting our steps and tracking our heart rate, others are looking for ways to make our training more efficient and, one day, wearable technology may fit right in with our everyday clothing.
What wearable technology are you using while you train? What do you hope for in the future of fitness technology? And will you be joining us for the Plusnet Yorkshire Half Marathon in Sheffield? Let us know in the comments below or through Twitter @Plusnet.