Smartwatches are changing how we exercise

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, fitness resources like trainers and gyms are harder to access. Nathan Davies explores how technology makes it easier than ever to get fit at home.

Photo taken by Mike Mozart. Sourced from Flickr.

Never before has the topic of health been as important as it is today. Covid-19 continues to dominate the news cycle, placing our mental and physical health at the forefront of public consciousness.

The pandemic has also created new problems that must be overcome around health and fitness. Covid-19 restrictions have made it harder to access the resources needed to improve ourselves. Personal trainers and physiotherapists are harder to reach, while most gyms have been closed or severely restricted.

This new environment has seen an acceleration of an already growing trend; the digitisation of fitness.

Studies conducted in the past few months have shown just how Covid-19 has impacted the ways in which we keep fit. One survey from Dublin-based Amárach Research found that almost two-thirds of people surveyed had spent more time in online fitness classes than they did before the pandemic.

The study also brought to light the growing use of devices when tracking fitness goals, with 60% of people having used mobile apps, smartwatches, and other devices in order to track their activity and compete with family and friends.

The numbers show just how popular digital fitness is becoming, and personal accounts from athletes explain why.

“For me, the best thing about them [smartwatches] is being able to track how far and how long I swim for with the GPS in the watch.” said Wicklow-based triathlete Anthony McGrath. “I like to see how far I go and try to beat it the next time.”

Fellow triathlete Jean Fogarty favours the health benefits from her smartwatch: “I use mine to keep track of my weight,” she said. “Counting calories, checking resting heart rate and peak heart rate. You couldn’t do any of that years ago.”

Agreeing with McGrath, she sees the benefit in tracking her progress. “I can set a distance on the app and start running. 

“When I hit that distance, the watch will buzz to let me know I have hit my goal. It takes so much of the weight off my shoulders. I don’t have to work out how far I ran. It knows how many calories I burned whether I’ve swam, cycled or even gone kayaking.

“It keeps me motivated. I know when I’m doing well. I know when I’ve had a lazy day. It kept me motivated during lockdown to keep exercising.”

However, these technologies have not come without their downsides. Like all digital technologies, the issue of privacy has inevitably been raised given how much data these devices are gathering.

Google’s ongoing acquisition of Fitbit has raised alarms given their history with gathering data for advertisement purposes. The ramifications of the merger have been scrutinised by the EU, who warn that it presents a “high level of risk to the fundamental rights to privacy and to the protection of personal data.”

Despite Google claiming they have no intention to use the data in this manner, the EU’s fears may be justified. Fitbit’s ability to gather sensitive health information on its 28 million users may present yet another digital privacy issue in the wrong hands.

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