The gadgetization of fitness has been a significant trend over the course of the past year. The wrists of anyone even vaguely into sports or exercise were suddenly adorned with the Nike Fuel Band, and our Facebook feeds full of RunKeeper and Strava reports of just how far our friends had jogged and cycled.
It seems pretty clear by this point that the iWatch will, when it appears, have a major focus on health and fitness. We don’t yet know exactly what it will measure, but I argued in an earlier opinion piece that it’s likely to measure more than any one of the devices currently available.
Will the old adage of ‘What gets measured gets managed’ apply, with all this data leading us to exercise more, eat more healthily and generally up our game fitness-wise? Or will it be a novelty that quickly wears off, with owners reverting to life as usual within a few weeks … ?
If my experience of fitness gadgetization is anything to go by, I think it could have a lasting effect.
Last year, I had a vague goal of cycling 3000 miles across of the year. I didn’t do it – mostly because I didn’t reliably measure my mileage. The odometer on one of my bikes stopped working, and that was the one I use for my everyday utility rides. Replacing it never made it very high up the to-do list. I had a GPS, which I used for social rides at the weekend, but not for everyday rides around town.
So this year, I decided to set the same goal, and to measure it properly. I usually have a cycling holiday of around 600 miles, so the rest of the year I need to average 50 miles a week.
To facilitate easy logging of my mileage, I bought a new GPS, a Garmin Edge 810. The key feature of this one is it connects to my iPhone via Bluetooth. As soon as I complete a ride, I hit the Save button on the GPS, it passes the ride data to the Garmin Connect app on my iPhone which then immediately uploads it to the web.
If I want to check my mileage for the week, or the year to date, all I have to do is click a link to a website. Not only that, but my cycling buddies can do the same – so if I’m falling behind, Questions Will Be Asked …
It’s admittedly early days in 2014, but the evidence so far is that it works. I have used the GPS on almost every ride, even when it’s just a mile or two. I check my mileage frequently, and use a synchronisation service called Tapiriik to sync my data from Garmin Connect to Strava, where more of my cycling friends hang out. I’ve signed up to the Strava mileage league table of a cycling club I belong to, so everyone in the group can see how I’m doing.
I’m organising more social rides, using a bicycle for journeys where I might otherwise have jumped in the car or on the tube (the informal name of London’s underground metro service) and am generally making more of an effort to get out on my bikes.
I have friends who use Fuel Bands and GPS running trackers. They too report the same thing: the combination of ease of measurement and peer pressure via social networks provides the motivation to get out there and do the miles on those wet & windy days when they might otherwise not bother.
There will always be those who set half-hearted goals and then do little to see them through. A fitness gadget is never going to be a substitute for willpower. But gadgets plus social networks do seem to be a powerful tool. If the iWatch measures a whole bunch of things we don’t currently measure, I can see it making a real difference.
If you use a fitness gadget, let us know your experiences in the comments – and vote in the poll to let us know whether you think an iWatch will make a difference to your health & fitness.