Sticking with it – how tech helps exercise

Fitting in exercise with family life – the kind that doesn’t involve running after small people or an aggressive cleaning regime, anyway – can be a tricky thing. I’ve never been the kind of person that can jump around in front of a fitness DVD, or remember to do 30 minutes of planking and sit ups before I get ready for my day.

Exercise needs to have a point. Or a goal. Or something to keep it focused and interesting.

Something that interests me is how increasingly, technology provides a solution for that.

What forms of exercise technology are there?

Probably the first interaction between technology and exercise I had was a pedometer. This is the most basic form of exercise tech really – cheap, easy to use, and with just one goal – to walk a certain number of steps. For a while, until I lost or broke each pedometer (a bit like my childhood tamagotchi) it provided an added layer of beneficial interest to my day.

Next up was my PS2, with added EyeToy. My neighbours regularly had the pleasure of watching me getting my Street Fighter on, or making like Sonic and zooming through tunnels of rings, through my rather large living room windows. The ability to do such things has only been added to in recent times, with Nintendo capitalising the most on getting people up and moving whilst they play. Not that this was their main intention – it was more about making gameplay more interesting – but increased fitness is an added bonus alongside that.

And then of course there are accelerometers. A large proportion of people have one of these, even though they might not realise it – they are the bits built into smartphones that tell them which way up they are. They don’t just tell phones if they’re upside down though, they can also measure velocity (how fast the phone is going), and consequently, if you are carrying your phone, how fast you are going too. Many apps exist which use this smartphone feature, alongside GPS functionality in some cases,  to help record and track exercise. My main problem with this is I constantly forget where I’ve put my phone, or my charger. So half the running around I do is never recorded and my exercise levels are reportedly woeful, which is a bit disheartening.

Specific technology for cycling and sport

garmin edge 520 bike computerAnd thus the rise of specific technology to record specific exercise. If for example, like me, you ever had a basic cycling speedometer two or three decades ago, then you’ll most likely love all the technology that’s developed to record your cycling in more recent years. My Garmin Edge 520 GPS bike computer not only tells me how fast I’m going (using the inbuilt GPS, or with the addition of a cadence sensor for more specific accuracy), but also records exactly where I’ve been cycling too. And if you like a bit of a challenge to keep you in the exercising mood, you can compete against other people without them having to be there, thanks to the Strava segment integration which shows you live on little screen exactly how you are doing in comparison to others on specific sections of roads and courses. This is exactly the sort of thing that works for me to keep me enthusiastic and exercising, even if I’m out on my own doing it.

fitbug orb reviewWristwatch type wearable technology has also made some massive leaps since I first got my Fitbug Orb 3 years ago. My new Apple Watch 2 (thanks birthday fairy!) can record all my exercise as it’s waterproof and permanently attached to my wrist – not literally, but in the sense I wear it all day every day – and it interacts with my phone and my health insurance provider to give me not just the bonus of tracking my exercise, but also some treats for doing it too. If the trade off for getting out there and getting active is being able to slouch like a sloth in a cinema for free after I’ve done it, then I’m very happy with that. And that happiness about it leads to more exercising, and more happiness. I’d call it a vicious circle except its more like a benevolent, endorphin laden loop.

When it comes down to it, being able to track what you’ve been doing, to see how you grow and improve, and to share what you’ve been doing with other people is a really good motivator for most people who might find it hard to keep going, to stay on track, or simply to lever themselves up from the sofa in the first place. It also helps with understanding how your body reacts, how far you can push yourself, and what impact different types of exercise have. So whilst you don’t NEED technology to exercise effectively, I think it has definitely had a big impact in making sure that effective exercise actually happens.

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