Wearable tech is big news. And it’s fast becoming big business. But can it really make us healthy as the adverts appear to claim?
The short answer, unfortunately, is no. So far there is no secret bracelet that can directly burn fat for you and no magic scarf that helps you bypass the cravings that cause excess eating and drinking. While Apple are more than capable of developing a necklace that delivers an electric shock whenever you reach for a doughnut, we doubt there would be too many people queuing up for to buy such a product. So what is the point of wearable tech with so-called “health features”?
Accountability lies at the core of these gadgets. What smart watches, health monitors, pedometers and activity trackers all have in common is the data that they supply back to the user. And that data plays a crucial role in the psychology of wellbeing.
Let us put it another way. Every week we read in the news about one campaign or another calling for greater transparency on food packaging and drinks bottles, or a greater focus on health awareness in education. The commonly held belief is that many of us fail to exercise correctly or eat right due to a lack of understanding. It is certainly true that there are thousands of items on the shelves of our supermarkets that have ‘hidden’ ingredients – such as ready meals with high sugar and salt content. But with health tech things are set to change.
Much like a black box flight recorder, we will all soon be able to more accurately monitor what goes into our bodies versus our output through physical exertion. Smartphone apps such as My Fitness Pal already offer us incredible calorie counting facilities and with a bracelet such as the Fitbit we are able to more accurately assess whether our calorie burning comes close to our intake.
Accountability doesn’t have to be a negative, of course. Wearable health tech doesn’t just help you make note of what you shouldn’t do, it helps to incentivise what you should do through a phenomenon known as gamification.
Gaming is ubiquitous in society today. Ever since the first consoles were invented we have happily explored our competitive spirits and pitted ourselves against both computer and other competitors in front of a screen. But in recent years, mobile technology has allowed us to apply gamification to many other areas of our lives.
Through apps such as Strava, smartphone users have been able to post times for runs or bike rides on a global leaderboard – available for others to see and compete against. It is well known that fitness regimes rely heavily on motivation – one of the reasons that group exercise are so heavily promoted – but with GPS tracking and the socialisation of data, motivation can be elevated even when exercising alone.
Heart rate monitors are an important ally in the fight against fat because only by raising our heart rate and getting our cardiovascular system working can we really get our body burning. But some of the biggest tech companies have aspirations beyond simple exercise monitors.
Healthcare is no longer restricted to the hospital. By enabling patients to monitor or even diagnose their own health problems, they are in many senses becoming empowered. For those with heart conditions, the ability to track heart rate from day to day and even download data to present to their doctor will play a crucial role in the future of diagnoses.
Sleeping is healthy. In fact, it’s the best medicine for those of us wanting to live a long and prosperous life. Enter the sleep tracking device.
Sleep trackers such as the Misfit Shine can assess quality of sleep for individuals, noting the timings of REM and non-REM sleep so that we better understand our sleep patterns and sleep requirements over time.
One thing we can say is that wearable health tech has only just arrived. What the future holds nobody quite yet knows. But with the likes of Apple and Google entering the arena in a big way, it is clear that there is lots more to come.