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HEALTHLINE NEWS

Will Technology Replace Good, Old-Fashioned Exercise?

No doubt, all things smart are on the rise. Experts weigh in on what this means for fitness.

exercise technology

With smart appliances, cameras, phones, and even social robots making it into our high-tech world, it seems plausible that we'll also turn to tech solutions to perform exercise for us.

At least that’s what a new study published in the journal Endocrinology suggests.

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The study conducted on obese mice reports that whole body vibration (WBV) may be as effective as regular exercise when it comes to benefiting muscles and bone health, and combatting some of the negative effects of obesity and diabetes.

During WBV, you sit, stand, or lie on a machine that has a vibrating platform. When the machine vibrates, it transmits energy to the body causing the muscles to contract and relax multiple times during each second.

“The science on WBV is sound. When you vibrate on a platform, the platform causes your muscles to contract almost like you're moving but you’re not,” Pete McCall, adjunct faculty of exercise science at Mesa College in San Diego, Calif., told Healthline.

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For people who are overweight and have difficulty moving, McCall said WBV is a good start. “But like any other form of exercise you’re going to have a finite wall. There will be a point where your body adapts to it and another unit of that exercise isn’t going to provide your body significant benefits,” he added.

Read more: Is playing ‘Pokémon Go’ really exercise? »

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Still a need for movement

No matter how much technology makes its way into fitness, the body still needs to move, said McCall.

Think of your heart and your circulatory system like the engine in a car, he said. If you leave your car in the backyard for 30 years, it’s going to fall apart, but if you turn it on a few times a month, it will remain drivable.

“The body is the same way,” McCall explained. “You can't just leave your body sitting in the backyard, so to speak. It will deteriorate. Your heart is like the engine, so when you move, your heart pumps blood around the working muscles. By moving, you’re making your heart more effective at getting blood, oxygen, and nutrients to your muscles.”

You can’t just leave your body sitting in the backyard, so to speak. It will deteriorate.
Pete McCall, Mesa College

Karen Lawson, IEEE senior member and senior director of design technology, agreed, pointing to data tracking technology that is widely used to track miles run, steps taken, calories eaten, and more.

Think Fitbit, Apple Watch, MyFitnessPal, and beyond.

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While technology helps to quantify fitness goals and motivate people to refine their workouts and diet, Lawson said moving is essential.

“Being a passive participant will still not result in achieving health-related or physique goals without moving the body. Also, it can be discouraging to see the slow pace of results for someone constantly checking in. It confirms there is still no ‘quick fix’ to years of sedentary behavior or poor diet,” she told Healthline.

Read more: Can cash push people to exercise? »

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The future of fitness

If fitness technology isn't going to exercise for us, what will it do? McCall and Lawson see the future of technology making an impact on fitness in several ways.

Fit equals cheaper health insurance
While McCall and Lawson believe the number of wearable fitness trackers and tracking apps will continue to increase, McCall sees them taking on a different role in health.

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“These are useful for tracking data, but until health insurance companies start giving you a discount based on how active you are on a daily basis, the data we collect on our activity is irrelevant,” he said.

He pointed out that some organizations are starting to give employees extra bonuses, credits, or money toward health insurance premiums if the employee achieves a minimal amount of activity per quarter.

For instance, the insurance provider UnitedHealthcare has teamed up with the technology company Qualcomm to develop trackers.

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“It’s already happening. I can see it being common that in order to get the best rates from your health provider you’ll have to upload your tracker information once a month or quarter to show how much you are exercising,” McCall said.

Smart fabrics will get smarter
Over the next decade, Lawson thinks smart fabrics will include sensing capabilities that allow users to augment the monitoring and performance of their activity.

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“While such fabrics exist today and are making their way into commercialized products, the cost and durability will only continue to improve and therefore these will be driven into the apparel and accessory market globally,” she said.

In-home advancements
Our fast-paced lives will drive in-home fitness technology, including the ability to stream workouts from your home, said McCall.

“Daily Burn does this with Daily 365. You can be in Chicago and do a live class with an instructor in Manhattan. That type of in-home technology will be big,” he said.

“The last five years, we had boutique studios like Cross Fit, Orangetheory, and SoulCycle really infringe on traditional health club space, but the next five years, I can see people saying why pay $25 per class at a boutique studio when I can pay that per month for a say, Daily Burn membership and do it at home?”

Read more: Exercise benefits children physically and mentally »

Human interaction trumps technology

With a lot of technology in our lives, McCall believes most people like their exercise as low tech as possible.

“There is kind of saturation point where we just want to go to the gym and work out and forget the downloading and uploading of this and that. It gives us a chance to step away from the screen for an hour or so and maybe connect with friends and those we work out with in the meantime,” he said.

Going back to the basics of movement is always a sure thing, he added.

“Let's face it, Cross Fit got huge, but it has you run around the block. They've gone to the basics. Instead of buying an $8,000 treadmill, they have you flipping over 300-pound car tires, or instead of being on an expensive elliptical runner, you're doing jump ropes in your garage,” McCall said.

Being a passive participant will still not result in achieving health-related or physique goals without moving the body.
Karen Lawson, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers

Still, there’s no denying people will continue to seek out tech solutions for exercise, noted Lawson.

“But … the trend of changing how fitness is achieved, having more fun, and developing new behaviors around ‘gamification’ of exercise is hopefully resulting in more positive results beyond the body image,” she said. “The holistic benefit of human movement, e.g., experiencing the beauty of a hike, coupled with the technology support to quantify your improved behaviors promises more sustainable health improvements.”

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