The Promise of Wearable Technology for Sport Organisations

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Dr Vassil Girginov of Brunel University explains the role of wearable technology in promoting physical activity and healthy behaviour.

Many of you will own one of the 3.4 million wrist-worn wearables in the UK. While wrist-worn wearables remain expensive and thus less accessible, the benefits they offer for the promotion of health, physical activity and sport have been widely recognised. A new term has also been coined by the World Health Organisation – mHealth - defined as the use of mobile and wireless technologies to support the achievement of health. Currently there are approximately 40,000 mHealth applications which makes cognitive and practical orientation difficult.

What does all this mean for sport organisations in the UK, and should we really get excited about wearables?

Mintel (2016) research suggests that health is the strongest driver for adopting wearables (35% of users) followed by tracking activity  (25%) and patient information (19%). Available academic and market-research suggests that the main attraction of wearables lies in their ability to motivate individuals to change their health and physical activity behaviour. This is because wearables can directly enhance ones’ self-efficacy by improving their competency and autonomy or the ability to decide on their own course of action. Both self-efficacy and autonomy are critical conditions for people’s engagement with health and physical activity.

Wearables provide users with immediate feedback and information associated with a variety of metrics related to broad goals, including step count, calories burned, stairs climbed, distance travelled, active vs. passive activity, sleep cycle and length. Wearables also provide users with an overview of their specific performance details and offer them continuous positive reinforcement.

A high level of personalisation through the dashboard for wearables allows users to both assess their level of competency (or self-efficacy) as well as their autonomy to better perform specific fitness activities. Market leaders such as FitBit and Jawbone further assist users by allowing them to either self-interpret their results, or provide a rolling interpreted summary and action recommendations as well as challenges.

The advantages of wearables for individual users presents real opportunities for sport and recreation organisations to capitalise on the value of personal and aggregate data generated as well as instant connectivity with participants. Wearables offer two important promises for sport organisations that require management actions.

The first promise concerns the integration of wearables into existing or future health, physical activity and sport interventions. National Governing Bodies and sports clubs running such interventions could use smart phones and watches to send messages and to collect data with the view to share this information with other users and sport organisations. As a result, physical activity and sport providers could offer competence-enhancing, reflective and constructive feedback strategies to participants. They could also use the GPS data to develop geographical mapping of various activities and promote the ‘most active places’. The second promise involves offering personalised professional services by helping participants track their wellbeing, and in interpreting the data collected. 

If you would like to learn more about how wearable technology can help get the nation active, Dr Girginov is hosting a free seminar in London on 17 November. You can sign up here