I have been working in the health and fitness sector for many years now and I am also a self-confessed technophile so I cam e to the conclusion that I think that the fitness world needs widespread innovation in both technology and service provision.
As your probably aware digital technology marches onward at a blistering pace which makes me wonder – How will our exercise activities change? That’s a question I’d like to answer, but will likely throw up more questions!
A good example of how fitness related tech is changing the way we exercise is the KiFit monitoring device designed to be worn 24/7 that captures every move you make and turns it into easily understood visual graphs. With the data uploaded to the internet you have your very own virtual scientist telling you precisely how much energy you used, what you consumed (you have to tell it that though) and how close you are to achieving your targets.
Could this type of fitness device could be the precursor to a future where human and machine meld into one ‘information processing system?
Fitness technology shouldn’t stop with just information processing You can: Get yourself a personal trainer on your mobile phone watching your session live via your phone cam; download exercise videos to your smart Phone and follow the instructions; get an email giving you your weekly programme and teaching tips from a personal trainer (real or artificial intelligence!) and virtual instructors giving indoor exercise classes (with or without 3D glasses).
Some will say ‘we’re in a service industry; it’s all about the people, not machines or technology’ but t ell that to the 90% of the population who don’t go to the gym and of the 10% that do go to the gym, attrition rates are high across many operators because members don’t get enough attention from fitness instructors.
Embracing technology could help reduce attrition rates (or improve retention depending on your glass half full/empty opinion).
Some fitness technology is increasingly in use such as gyms sending email reminders, text alerts and intelligent data collection systems such as Technogym Wellness System Key, Ki-Fit, Nike Plus and others are already available to send updates on progress, suggest new exercises and book appointments.
What about the other 90% who don’t go to the gym but are likely to have a phone and/or internet connection? If the health and fitness industry invested more in researching that ‘killer app’ to educate the masses in fitness it would benefit us all.
The digital revolution is here, but it’s not focused on fitness. Technology is gearing towards us being more social. Proof comes from the fact that Facebook is the second most popular website in the world! We have the capability to check friends’ walls and tweets on our phones. Yet with all this tech we are not swapping enough exercise ideas, planning enough exercise routines or arranging enough runs in the park. If we did then our nation would be in better physical shape!
I see an opportunity to educate and encourage non-exercisers towards a healthier future using technology as a catalyst for improving health and fitness through excitement and enjoyment of gadgets.
How? For a start there are computer ‘games’ that encourage users to increase activity levels at home. One such game is the Wii Fit + Wii Fit Plus for Nintendo Wii. I remember first trying this game before UK launch a few years ago. It was easy to use with a pleasant interface that enticed me to play. Although it had many Yoga type exercises it now includes strength training exercises. I wanted to get one in the gym I was managing at the time but the owners laughed at the idea. It’s very popular being in the top 50 games for Wii.
Another ‘game’ is EA Sports Active: Personal Fitness Trainer for Wii. This includes a resistance band and leg strap. With the controller attached to your leg or in your hands, the software tracks your movements and moves your avatar on screen. The game describes the exercise and demonstration correct technique which is a nice touch.
The key thing with all these is that there is motion sensing technology. Soon to follow the system popularised by Nintendo, Sony Playstation Move and Microsoft 360 ‘Project Natal’ will launch this year. I expect there to be a new wave of health and fitness related titles to cater for the new audiences these platforms will attract.
These games may only promote is moderate to low intensity, but I think even with the basic exercises, a sedentary person will benefit from the extra activity. It could also be a ‘gateway’ to exercising outdoors and eventually a gym.
Nike + is a device that uses an accelerometer to gauge how far you’ve travelled and how fast. The sensor is either in a shoe or in an iPod. When your workout is finished you upload the collected data to the Nike+ website to see how far you’ve gone. You even get a congratulatory message from Paula Radcliffe if you beat your personal best!
With more innovative software and hardware hitting the consumer market, there will be a greater opportunity to engage users with fitness related content and activities. As a Personal Trainer and Tutor, I see this as a good thing. Educated clients mean you are more likely to raise your skills and knowledge to ensure they continue to learn and get the best results.