The technology behind a healthy 2017

24 February 2017| by Kate Marshall

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Get-fit tech

As the grey skies of March loom ever closer, Christmas indulgence has become a distant memory. We are now well into 2017, and although our new year’s resolutions may have been put away with the decorations, science might just have our back (again).

Around a quarter of us report that technology is key to keeping us in good shape. So what tools, tips and tricks will help us beat the bloat in 2017? Here are some recent tech innovations that just might help us reach next Christmas in better shape.


New wearable technologies help us exercise more, tone up and lose weight

While current fitness trackers are already able to measure physical data including heart rate, speed, altitude and sleeping patterns, new sensor and tracker designs are being created to improve the accuracy and breadth of this information.

As an example, this spring sees the launch of a new 8mm-wide, waterproof smart ring that moves fitness tracking from your wrist to your finger – potentially useful if you find wearing a wristband uncomfortable. In future, fitness trackers might be designed to be so unobtrusive that they are completely invisible, replaced by hidden technology such as tiny, see-through stickers equipped with a battery and an ultrasensitive biosensor that sits on the skin.

Other new developments include “hearables” wireless audio ear buds that accurately measure vital signs including heart rate and core body temperature, and a three-piece fitness solution combining a connected shoe, stride sensor and GPS-enabled smart band that measures speed, cadence and stride length.

Additionally, specially designed sports clothes, such as a t-shirt with heart rate sensors and GPS monitors sewn directly into its fabric, allow coaches and personal trainers to remotely track athletes’ distance, acceleration, speed, and other performance metrics. It may be that we see this technology become more widely used by the fitness community in general, as amateur runners, cyclists and sports players begin to take a more analytical look at their own performances.


An assistant in your pocket

Fitness tracking devices are designed to send physical data to an app, typically installed onto mobile devices. But people may be less inclined to use their fitness tracker if it sends them arbitrary, useless data, which could give their health goals a terminal prognosis.

Recently, new apps have been developed that can translate physical data into personalised feedback to help users become more active. Known as virtual health assistants, these apps can analyse your daily activities, suggest workouts based on these activities, and even send texts encouraging you to hit your steps goal for the day. Some assistants will even compliment you for choosing salad for dinner!

If that's not enough, there are even devices and apps being developed that can send updates to your doctor from the comfort of your own home. For example, patients wearing the VitalConnect biosensor device can have data sent in real-time to their doctor, alerting them should they take a turn for the worst. These wearable biosensors, that come in a variety of forms (including hats, belts, bracelets, shoes, necklaces and even contact lenses), are providing new ways of connecting clinicians to their patients, and as reported in a recent review, are a cornerstone in the fast-developing world of healthcare informatics.

This kind of remote monitoring brings many benefits to healthcare as a whole, allowing patients to be discharged from hospital earlier to improve their comfort and help to free up bed space.

But if that's still not enough, fashion-conscious fitness fanatics might also be pleased to know that jewellery designers and fashion houses are starting to launch their very own luxury, jewel-encrusted wearable devices.

And for those looking to give their home a healthy re-design, look no further than the newest smart tableware. There’s now a plate that weighs and analyses everything that’s on it, a Bluetooth-enabled fork that measures eating speed, and the smart cup that lets you ‘hydrate intelligently’!


A novel (app)roach to kicking the habit

Academics at Kingston University and Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) have recently developed a smartphone app to help people quit smoking. The app, conceived by a game industry professional, Hope Caton (Kingston), and a health sciences researcher, Professor Robert Walton (QMUL), uses gamification to change addictive behaviours. They developed it after their research discovered that very few (only 4%) existing health apps use gamification to change behaviours, which may limit their potential to improve our health.

The app, called Cigbreak Free, involves a game in which players swipe cigarettes to ‘break’ them within a time limit. Players progress through different levels, gaining rewards and gold stars along the way. It also includes a ‘quit journal’ in which users can calculate their financial savings, and a mini-game where players clear smoke from a room to reveal a health message.

The next step will be to find out whether the app actually helps smokers quit, and this time of year will see people queuing up to test it out as they try to keep hold of their resolutions. The volunteers will take part in a three-month pilot study to show whether playing games on their phones can kick their smoking habit. If it’s effective, in the future perhaps the games we play on our smartphones won’t just be for fun, but for keeping us healthy, too. 


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