The “extra push” for being more physically active

IMG_0266In the previous AAP blog post, Anastasios Rodis told us about the difficulties that current technology is creating with regards to sociability, mental and physical well being. However, it is a reality that Smartphones are now a ubiquitous technological gadget that has become part of our daily lives. In this sense, like many other things in life, there is no black-or-white answer and smartphones (or technology in general) can’t be seen as something completely bad or completely good. More importantly, in order to reduce the potentially harmful aspects of technology, we would have to develop and utilize technology as a means to promote positive behaviors; in this case a physically active lifestyle.

Among the positives that technology has brought to our pockets, there is a plethora of apps and hardware (e.g. wristbands, sensors, etc.)  that can help us be more active and even keep up with our exercising regimes. The availability of accelerometers and GPS tracking systems in most smartphones has led software/hardware developers and sport companies to create companions and enhancers of physical activity. In this blog post I’ll talk about some of the most popular hardware solutions that have been developed in the last years. Technological innovations can be used as reminders and promoters of a less sedentary lifestyle.

One of the most popular hardware products today is the Nike+ FuelBand created by the athletic products corporation Nike; which acclaims to be “the ultimate measure of your athletic life”. This band that connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth is a three-axis accelerometer worn on the wrist; it then translates the wearer’s daily movements into NikeFuel earned points that track the individual’s activity and energy expenditure. It counts all activities, like running, walking or playing sports, translates them to NikeFuel and since those points are calculated in the same way for everyone, the user is able to compare and compete with anyone through the use of social networking.

This wristband and similar products like Jawbone’s UP wristband, are intended to not only remind the user to be active, but they let them keep track of the activity/energy expenditure during the day. Due to its earning-points system, people might get some extra motivation from the awards and trophies that are unlocked after a certain number of points are earned. Additionally, through its connection to social networks, it serves as a constant virtual “training buddy”, that will encourage you to keep up with the physical activity and enables you to compare with your friends to see how you rank among them.

Besides being a cool addition that can look good to your smartphone, the question that remains is how effective these add-ons are on promoting and maintaining physical activity. For years, researchers in medicine, psychology and other related areas have tried to understand what it takes to promote a desired “behavior change”. According to BJ Fogg from the Persuasive Technology Laboratory of Stanford University, a target behavior will only occur when a person has the sufficient motivation to do it, has the sufficient ability to perform it and an effective stimuli triggers the activity. They suggest that people in general have at least a moderate level of motivation and ability to do a certain behaviors, and that these levels can be manipulated through the use of technology. In our case, we can assume that almost everyone has at least a certain level of motivation for being physically active (they may know all the benefits of doing it) and an ability to do certain physical activities, like walking or jogging. However, Fogg suggests that even when someone has a high level of motivation and ability, there is a need for an appropriate trigger in order to behavior to occur.

Here is when these wristband solutions might come to complete the equation. For those who are somehow active right now or are on the verge of initiating it, they just need that “trigger” that will tell us: “Hey, right now is a great moment to exercise!” These hardware solutions may trigger the desired behavior in the perfect moment (when you are motivated and have the ability to perform the activity) through a buzz or a message, which is noticed by the individual. And what is even more important as suggested by Fogg, this trigger is associated with the target behavior, and that association becomes stronger through time.

Many of you may be thinking that gadgets are not the solution for many people who are not exercising right now, and that would not start doing it, grace to the “magical band” on their wrist. I completely agree with you and there are a lot of additional physical and psychological barriers that we must work on in order to make people exercise more, which can be the topic of a new blog post. Nevertheless, for those active exercisers who want to do it more often and even to those who are planning to start, these technologies might help them to increase or maintain their exercise regimen. So as Anastasios suggested, do not discredit your smartphone, start looking for apps or hardware solutions that help you become more active and transform into your virtual training buddy (or even find a real one!). Because sometimes in our tight schedules, all we need is that “push” that will take us from being in front of our computers, to putting on our training clothes and start exercising. In our current society, that extra push might come in the form of a band, a smartphone or even an app.

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4 Responses to The “extra push” for being more physically active

  1. Good post Camilo. But i still believe that most of us are not ready to use this type of technology in order to become more physical active. I still believed on the old fashion way 😉

  2. Camilo Sáenz M. says:

    I agree with you and I know that some people wouldn’t feel identified with these technological helps. However, I think that people are (unfortunately) getting more and more engage with their smartphones, so we must try to take advantage of it. Thanks for reading!

  3. Mohan Agrawal says:

    Hey, In my school I am standing to support the point that Technology has NOT made us lazy and lethargic. Can you suggest some points? THanks in advance 🙂

    • Camilo Sáenz M. says:

      Hi Mohan, well in some sense technology has made us in some way lazy since nowadays some people might prefer to be sited in front of the tv, the computer or a video game. Nevertheless what I wanted to point out in this blog is the idea that technology per se is not the one to blame for our laziness, the problem is in how we use the technology. Some of the hardware that I mention in this blog (the nike and UP band) are a perfect examples in which technology is used in a proper way to promote physical activity. Once again, for me the real issue is around HOW we use it, not whether it is good or bad.
      Thanks for reading and sorry for the late response.

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