Exercise and fitness

Rebecca Hussey, Physiologist at AXA Health

How gadgets can improve health and wellbeing

10 April 2019

As the health tech revolution continues to develop at pace, we’re seeing new innovations every day that are helping to monitor and improve our health and wellbeing, as well as manage conditions, such as type 2 diabetes.

According to research by Mintel*, over 3 million wrist-worn wearable devices, such as fitness bands and smartwatches, are estimated to have been sold in the UK in 2015, up from 1.4 million the previous year. This means that one in seven people in the UK now own a wearable device.

Rebecca Hussey, Physiologist at AXA Health, says: “Understanding our health and tracking our progress has become much easier now that we’re able to use data collected on a daily basis from health tech devices. From fitness bands to smart watches and sensors, and tech with medical applications like blood glucose monitors, health tech is now being widely adopted by many people who want to take personal responsibility for their health.”

In the UK, physical inactivity contributes to almost one in 10 premature deaths from coronary heart disease, and one in six deaths from any cause. According to the British Heart Foundation, around five million adults now spend more than eight hours a day sitting down.

“Clearly, there's a need for things that help us get moving and help us monitor how good of a job we're doing in getting the exercise we need every day to prevent ill health”, says Rebecca.

“A lot more has been developed in terms of wearable tech. Technological advancements have created tiny chips and sensorial devices, which are in trainers or attached to shorts, to provide more specific feedback on things like cadence, bounce and posture. With sensors being developed now, we have a much better understanding of how the body works. It isn’t just about heart rate and steps anymore.”

If more of us are using health tech, it’s important to understand the benefit it can bring to our personal health.

Here Rebecca shares her top tips for how to get the best from your health tech gadgets, whatever you want to achieve.

1. Understanding your health

Why? Before we set goals for our health and fitness, it’s important to get a better understanding of whether our diet, exercise habits, sleep and mental wellbeing are as good (or bad) as we think they are. Gadgets can help identify what improvements we need to make to our lifestyles and health habits.

Try: A smart tracker; lightweight wristbands worn all day and all night. They tell you how many steps you take, how well you sleep, how far you travel, plus much more.

Rebecca says: “I like the Lumo Lift (posture coach), which is a wearable device that vibrates every time you slouch. It also tracks your activity levels, for example your steps, distance and calories used. It’s worn near your collarbone and used in conjunction with an app. It can help you prevent back pain or hunching later in life.”

2. Setting targets and goals

Why? Once we’ve identified which areas of our health need the most work, we’re able set ourselves goals. Setting fitness goals can help motivate us to stick to achieving the 150 minutes of moderate exercise the NHS recommends we do each week.

Many health commitments fail because of lack of focus or because we struggle to fit them into our day to day lives. But with fitness gadgets, we can set ourselves daily goals and activity reminders to move more.

Try: A sports watch. Not just for those keen on exercise and runners in training – they can also help people stay active in everyday life by sending notifications to stand and move when you’re inactive at work, for example.

Rebecca says: “Sports watches can help discourage a sedentary lifestyle, which can only be a positive thing.

“Try the Apple Smart watch 2, which reminds you when to stand, move or exercise every day. Plus it gives you regular progress updates and uses your success to motivate you to pursue new goals.

“In terms of apps, to help set goals, there’s MapMyRun, which reminds you when to run and can track workouts using a smartphone's GPS.”

3. Watching what you eat

Why? An unhealthy diet is one of the major risk factor for a range of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and other conditions linked to obesity. (Source: World Health Organization)

It can sometimes be difficult to keep track of how well we’ve eaten, especially as many everyday foods contain hidden calories. We get it – being busy, juggling work, looking after children or older parents – life in general – can be pretty hectic and it can be hard to keep track of what we’re consuming each day.

Try: There are lots of apps that make it easy to log what we’ve eaten – here’s a couple:

  • My Fitness Pal – a free online calorie counter and diet plan.
  • Tellspec Food Scanner – a spectrometer connected to an app, which analyses and tracks the calories, carbs, protein, fats, fibre, and glycemic load of the food you eat.

4. Sleep soundly

Why? Getting a good night’s sleep has numerous health benefits such as boosting memory and reducing our desire to snack.

Try: The Fitbit charge 2 or Fitbit Blaze, both of which have an accurate heart rate monitor and work by recording total sleep time, how many times you wake up or are restless and for how long. Knowing more about the quality of your sleep can help you find ways to improve it. Why not visit our sleep hub for some tips to help get a good night’s sleep.

5. Manage your weight

Why? Brits are getting bigger: in 2015, 58% of women and 68% of men were overweight or obese.

According to the NHS, obesity is linked to a number of potentially life-threatening conditions, including heart disease and stroke, some cancers and type2 diabetes. In fact, in 2015/2016, there were 525,000 admissions in NHS hospitals where obesity was recorded as factor. (Source: National Statistics: Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet, England 2017)

Try: A smart scale which hooks up to an app, enabling you to track your weight loss goals and progress.

“Rebecca Hussey, says: “It’s worth noting that tracking weight is much more than how heavy you are or what your BMI is. Muscle mass and body fat percentage are more accurate measures. Some who exercise may see their weight remain the same, or even go up, due to muscle mass weighing more that body fat.”

  • QardioBase – this smart scale and body analyser measures heart rate, water percentage, body, fat, bone mass and muscle mass to help you understand your body better and monitor your long term progress. It works with iOS 8.0 or later, Kindle, Android 4.4 or later, Android Wear and Apple Watch.
  • Fitbit Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale – it automatically sends weight information to your computer and displays the data in an easy to read online graph. It works with Fitbit Trackers and the Fitbit App so you can set goals and use its Calorie Coaching function to achieve them.

* http://www.mintel.com/press-centre/technology-press-centre/brits-step-up-to-wearable-technology-sales-of-fitness-bands-and-smartwatches-up-118-in-2015  

Further reading

Health benefits of sleep – AXA Health
Top ten tips for a better night’s sleep – AXA Health
Exercise and mental health benefits – AXA Health
Exercises for a healthy back – AXA Health

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