Technology

Physical Activity, Exercise and Technology - Is Fitness Moving Forward or Regressing?

Dandan
This is a guest post from Daniel Lahav (photo, above), RPT (registered physiotherapist in Ontario), B. Ed phys ed (Wingate Institute,Israel), B.Sc physiotherapy (Hogeschool Van Amsterdam), Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) by NSCA, 6th degree black belt in AIKI Krav Maga.

The dictionary defines exercise as, "An activity requiring a physical effort, carried out to sustain or improve health and fitness". For me, the key words here are 'physical effort'. Is walking from your bedroom to the washroom a physical effort? Is walking your dog or cycling to work a physical effort? The answer is different for different people, so the definition of physical effort is very subjective. The answer lies in the most important principal in fitness, the overload principal which states that in order to improve your fitness, the activity you choose to partake in has to be more intense than a daily activity, and if done overtime, gradually increasing intensities lead to adaptation (progressive overloading). In other words 'physical effort' means doing something in a higher intensity than the effort required for your daily activities. And please don't get me wrong, being active physically is far healthier than not moving at all, but physical activity isn't the same as exercising.

As a health and fitness professional for more than 20 years, I have noticed a phenomenon in which more people are gradually beginning to think of their daily activities as exercise. To my mind, this is a response to living in a society, which as a whole, is progressively moving less (physically) even though the science is showing us conclusively that movement is critical for general health (way beyond just orthopedic health). I believe that most people know this innately (regardless of the scientific proof) and equate physical activity with exercise as a way to rationalize to themselves that they are being proactive in taking care of their own health.

The other growing phenomena In the past decade is the introduction of gadgets that claim to be able to measure functions in which energy expenditure, steps walked per day, quality and quantity of sleep are the most common metrics featured on these devices. These devices are aggressively marketed to us and at first glimpse seem like they could provide useful information that would help translate to better health and wellness outcomes, and for some, they probably do. However, risks need to be evaluated as well. The first question though, is whether they do a good job measuring what they claim they do. Meta analysis (research analyzing all the trials done trying to answer the question of whether these devices measure accurately what they claim to measure) have concluded that these devices aren't as accurate as they claim to be. Now we can ask, even if the technology improves and becomes more accurate, are there risks to using these technologies?

Personally, I see two main issues with this technology. First, I predict that people using these technologies will be exercising less than their peers without the technology (reminds me of the social media websites and apps story, initially these websites brought the promise of connecting people and communities together but in practice ended up helping create more feeling of loneliness and isolation in individuals and societies). Second, I think there is a problem when turning to technology with questions we should know the answer to by paying attention to our body's own feedback loops. Therefore, the biggest disadvantage here is losing the ability to connect with our body and listen to what is going on in our bodies and minds, or in other words, less awareness to what is happening inside us, like the feeling of being full after a meal, the feeling of being exerted after activity, the feeling of being rested after a nights sleep.

In my opinion, the fact that we move less, combined with a plethora of unreliable gadgets telling us how much physical activity we did in a day, what was our energy expenditure, how much we slept and the quality of our sleep, might become a dangerous phenomena. Do we really want technology to tell us how we feel? Do I feel full after a meal? At what point do I stop eating? Do I feel rested when I wake up? Am I dragging myself all day? Did I move or have been physically active enough during the day? We forget or don't try to pay attention to what we feel and the signals and alarms coming from our bodies.

I would hypothesize that as a mindset, thinking of a daily physical activity as exercise is causing people to do less exercise ("I don't need to go to the gym since I walked my dog today") and therefore harming themselves as individuals and as a society in the long run. We are already paying a huge monetary, social, physical and emotional price for the lack of movement and exercise in our society, and I predict that this trend will continue to get worse if these two phenomena continue getting more traction in our culture. I would strongly recommend stopping to think of your daily activities as exercise, this will force you to face the reality that we don't move enough, and have a better chance of changing our behavior than the self deluding alternative.

Note: We contracted out building our homes, then contracted our growing our food, then contracted out making our clothing, in the western world contracted out cooking and food perpetration, now a days we are contracting out feedback loops from our body to technology, and soon we will be contracting out decision making (algorithms predicting behavior are already here and exponentially getting more sophisticated). Raises the question, as a species whom are looking to evolve, for the individual does this look like progression or regression?

Peace and Love, Daniel

You can contact Daniel at its4dan@yahoo.com