Better Living Through Big Data

Kelly Holmes “Technology can inspire people to think differently about being active”

 

Gaming and technology are no longer synonymous with a lack of exercise. Far from encouraging us to sit indoors twiddling our thumbs, technology is helping to turn exercise into the game.

Wearable technology has teamed up with ever more powerful smartphones to turn our cities into virtual worlds, make cycling to work like a stage in the Tour de France and logging a rapid 5km a badge of social honour.

Gone are the days where all a runner could do was track speed and distance on a watch that weighed down one arm to the point you’d find yourself running in a circle, now data is becoming the reason to run.

The ability to challenge fellow runners with apps like Strava is encouraging more people to be active
The ability to challenge fellow runners with apps like Strava is encouraging more people to be active

“It’s not only creating virtual social competition and communities, but it also encourages people to get out there in the real world too.”

Big name sports trackers like Garmin, Endomondo and Strava are using their digital platforms to create a world of competition. This often provides enough motivation to help push people further than they may have managed solo.   Strava has been a huge success. Rather ingeniously this app allows cyclists, and now runners, to see what times others have managed on certain parts of road. If you’ve ever been out on a run or ride and had that silent moment of competition against another random runner, you’ll know it pushes you hard. Strava has managed to capture that within its app so everyone can compete whenever they want – without the fear of being seen to lose.

Alastair Brownlee, champion British Olympic triathlete, said: “I use Strava sometimes. It’s really tough where I’m from as there are some really good cyclists in the Yorkshire Dales.”

Where Strava uses geographical locations for its main competition, the likes of Endomondo and Garmin offer challenges. These can be created by users in order to get others involved and create competition plus, hopefully, improve performances. For example a recent Endomondo competition involved running as far as possible in a month with a leader board for those who had done most miles. Simple, but very effective.

If that wasn’t gamification enough, some developers have taken this even further into the gaming world. The Zombies, Run! app creates an entire world and, crucially, taps into a runner’s survival instinct to push them further.

By playing sounds through a smartphone and headphones the runner is placed on a mission to escape a zombie hoard and reach humanity’s last remaining outpost while collecting supplies, rescuing survivors and defending their home. With over 200 missions and an award-winning story, this is the app to try to see just how effective gamification of sport can be.

The rise in smartphone use means more there are more options for tracking exercise and gamifying it
The rise in smartphone use means more there are more options for tracking exercise and gamifying it

“Wearable technology is definitely having a huge positive impact on how active young people are.” argues Paul Lamkin, Editor-in-chief of Wareable.com, the UK’s leading wearables website.

“It’s not only creating virtual social competition and communities, but it also encourages people to get out there in the real world too. You only need to look at the explosion in running participation where the ability to track runs, share playlists and take inspiration from others in your network, is really empowering people to get out and do more.”

Even gaming itself has become more active with consoles like the Nintendo Wii U, Xbox with Kinect and PlayStation with Move all tracking movements to get gamers out of their seats. There has even been a proposal for a virtual reality adventure park.

“If you’re going to motivate young people you’ve got to do it in their way.”

This would see visitors put on VR headsets and sensors to run around a real set, with virtual overlaid, to complete missions. Like a gaming cinema of the future, where instead of eating popcorn sitting still, visitors burn calories running around the experience.

According to Dame Kelly Holmes, whose charitable foundation works to get young and disadvantaged children more active, the great thing about it is that this wave of fitness innovation speaks to youngsters in a language they can understand – technology!

“Health, fitness and the fight against obesity is such a big thing these days and if you’re going to motivate young people you’ve got to do it in their way.”

“Technology is part of the everyday for young people. They’ve always got a smartphone glued to them, so if you can combine something they enjoy and do anything with the tools that allow them to be motivated to keep fit, then you’re going to find it easier to inspire those people to think differently about being active.”

As more and more wearable trackers get released the competitions will only grow further. Soon the commute to work could even become a game. If that means getting healthier while being entertained, why not? – Kieran Alger (@kieranalger)

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