The Bionic Coach

High-Tech Boosts Healthy Routines



When President John F. Kennedy said in 1961 that the U.S. should commit to sending a man to the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade, few suspected the bounty of technological spinoffs that such National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) space missions would yield. Today, many of NASA’s research advancements, as well as technologies developed outside the space program, are put to good use in everyday life. Of particular interest are products used in fitness workouts.

ABI Research, a technology market intelligence company, revealed the growing popularity of consumer health and wellness technologies in its latest market projections for wearable, health-related devices. Estimates are that 80 million wearable monitoring devices, including heart monitors and biosensors that read body temperature and motion, will be sold by 2016.

When Clint, a global market research firm, conducted its most recent Fitness and Technology Survey, its findings showed technology at work. Based on 745 online interviews with people in seven countries, 72 percent of exercisers embraced some type of technology, including smartphone apps, to support their fitness routines two or more times a week.

In recent years, amateur and professional athletes have increasingly benefited from technological advances that help them chart, improve upon and customize their fitness routines. Tracking fitness progress and weight loss is now just clicks away with personal devices such as a Wi-Fi scale, which accurately measures weight, body fat percentage and body mass index. Online graphs chart the individual’s progress.

While the typical setting for measuring blood pressure and heart rate used to be in a physician’s office, hospital or pharmacy, new digital wrist blood pressure and heart monitors now allow exercise enthusiasts to do it themselves, wherever they are, helping ensure they are not exceeding the safety parameters of their fitness programs. User-friendly digital pocket pedometers and wireless activity-during-sleep wristbands both work in conjunction with a downloaded app to allow self-monitoring. Exercisers can track steps; distances walked cycled or swum; calories burned; total active minutes; and how long and how well they sleep.

In some U.S. fitness centers, members have an option of working with an automated, virtual, personal trainer. This almost-do-it-yourself approach to professionally guided fitness begins with a survey of an individual’s lifestyle and goals to create a personalized fitness regimen. Each time exercisers go to the center, they insert a key into a “smart trainer”, generating the day’s 30-minute customized workout. The technology focuses primarily on helping clients manage weight and maintain muscle.

Other technologies, such as medical-grade, pneumatic [air] compression boot systems, are facilitating at-home recovery for hip and knee surgery patients and quicker muscle recovery for serious athletes. Air-filled chambers remain inflated as pressure cycles sequentially move from the foot up the leg. The cycles flush out waste and replenish blood supplies to the muscles.

More complex bio-analyzing systems retrieve feedback from the body’s electromagnetic fields, the multiple energy meridians and the frequencies of the body’s cells and organs. “Such systems are largely used by chiropractors, naturopaths, physical therapists and acupuncturists,” says Loran Swensen, CEO of Innergy Development, which owns AO Scan, maker of the Magnetic Resonance Bio-Analyzer.

For people that struggle with traditional workouts or physical limitations, whole-body vibration technology may be a solution. “When you stand on the oscillating platform, the body reacts to the vertical vibratory stimulus with an involuntary muscle contraction; depending on the speed, muscles can react up to 23 times per second,” advises Linda Craig, co-owner of Circulation Nation, in Greer, South Carolina. Similar platforms are becoming commonplace in chiropractic practices.

Consumer applications of medical devices have led to the home use of additional sophisticated technologies like laser therapy. Successfully used for more than 30 years in Europe to treat trauma, inflammation, overuse injuries and cosmetic issues, as well as to provide pain relief and healing, some forms have recently been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

With 129,397,925 gym members worldwide according to a recent International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association report, it’s safe to predict that consumer demand ensures even more significant technological advances are in our near future.


Linda Sechrist is a senior staff writer for Natural Awakenings.

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