New Year, New Tech: How Fitness Technology Transforms More Than Just Our Workouts.
Fitness technology and even consumer health technology (technology designed to enhance a user's health and fitness routines and maximize results/prolong health) enable us to engineer our bodies for peak performance and attractiveness. These peak levels were attainable prior to the technology boom of the new millennium, but usually only to the physical elite willing to embark on the complicated feat of sticking to a strict diet and workout regimen.
Fitness technology not only makes reaching health and fitness goals easier for the average user, it also intensifies the results, raising fitness and health standards for everyone in or out of shape. Applications that not only help count calories, but also determine what specific foods individuals can eat to sculpt their abdominal muscles, various technologies that enable professional athletes to prolong their retirement and career primes, and applications that maximize daily performance and muscle growth through machine learning are all the products of the new era of healthy living. Since this technology is so new, the effects and impact on our society are largely undetermined. However, just as it is with other areas of technology such as smartphones and streaming services transforming media, fitness and health technologies are transforming how we take care of ourselves, our perception of the ideal body, and how to attain one through a variety of options.
Professional athletes use a wide range of cutting-edge health/wellness technologies to enhance their performance. No matter what the sport, technology provides athletes with ideal methods to build muscle and stamina as well as shorten recovery times, which has prolonged the careers of many star players. Sometimes these treatments/technologies make their way down to consumer use, such as the surge in cryotherapy in recent years. Cryotherapy originated as a treatment for arthritis in Japan in the 1970s, but only grew popular with Western athletes within the last 2 decades. Generally during a whole body cryotherapy session, digital technology cools therapy tanks to -200[degrees] Fahrenheit. Users climb into the chamber wearing only underwear, socks, and mittens to cover extremities (preventing frostbite). They stay in the chamber between 2 to 4 minutes. Their heads remain exposed and above the chamber during the treatment. The extreme cold helps flip the body's recovery process into super speed after a workout, allowing for instant inflammation relief, in most cases, speeding up muscle recovery periods from 2 days to 2 minutes. As highlighted in a U.S. News & World Report article, for professional athletes who are testing their bodies day after day and game after game, this is a huge advantage ("Should You Try Whole Body Cryotherapy?" Jan. 31, 2019; health.usnews.com/wellness/articles/should-you-try-wholebody-cryotherapy). Prior to whole body cryotherapy, the alternative was an ice bath; now, thanks to advances in technology, this is an ice bath worthy of the digital age.
In 2011, Dallas Mavericks basketball player Jason Kidd performed like he was years younger during a career-defining championship game and overall series. His secret weapon? Cryotherapy. The team regularly used cryotherapy during the 2011 season; as it turned out, several other teams were utilizing this method as part of their recovery practices as well ("How NBA Players Take Care of Their Bodies: Cryotherapy," Oct. 21, 2017; hoopshype.com/2017/10/21/how-nba-players-take-care-of-their-bodies-part-1-cryotherapy). As a result of such positive promotion from athletes, cryotherapy is now a common practice for both pro and amateur athletes. It has become so common, cryotherapy now makes the rounds in less exclusive circles and is called a "fountain of youth" health practice. Many accessible health spas offer sessions alongside the usual massage, promising rejuvenated, youthfulfeeling bodies and appearances. What was once something out of the reach of the average consumer is now as readily available as a manicure or pedicure.
Not Too Cool?
While athletes and other users sing its praises, cryotherapy's benefits have not been vetted in many formal studies. European studies found mixed results of how effective the technology is, and the verdict is still out on whether or not cheaper alternatives such as ice baths are still the better option. As the U.S. News & World Report article cited earlier notes, this is because the long-term effects of exposing individuals to such extreme temperatures on a regular basis are not determinable at this time. Not to mention there are plenty of accidents popping up with user error these days ("Whole Body Cryotherapy [WBC]: A 'Cool' Trend That Lacks Evidence, Poses Risks," July 5, 2016; fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/whole-body-cryotherapy-wbc-cool-trend-lacks-evidence-poses-risks). Many users swear by the therapy, claiming it not only has aided them in athletic recovery, but also has given them better, younger-looking skin, and even helped with weight loss. Despite the mixed reviews from formal studies, cryotherapy is still on the rise with average consumers as more treatment clinics pop up around the country on a regular basis.
LET'S GET TRACKING
Fitness trackers like the Fitbit and Apple Watch are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fitness technology. Many products in this category do so much more than help us keep track of our heart rate during a workout. One of the more sophisticated examples is the RocketBody application that functions alongside the Apple Watch. In October 2019, RocketBody CEO Tim Lipsky debuted the newest electro cardio technology application version at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco. The application uses an EKG (electrocardiogram) to measure the rhythm of the user's heart beats/heart rate to determine the condition of the user's body and gage how prepared and successful a workout will be if performed at that specific moment. The application determines this by using machine learning from EKG patterns that are unique to the user ("RocketBody EKG Based Fitness Trainer," 2019; gorocket body.com). When used properly, RocketBody gives users the advantage of measuring the accuracy of recovery times, thus maximizing their fitness routine, and obtaining stronger, more defined results. Personalization is something completely unique to fitness technology, and users are maximizing their results through its unique advantages.
DIETING APPS: SECOND TO NOOM?
Dieting plays a huge part in attaining peak physical performance, and there are tons of applications that offer endless possibilities and combinations for pinpointing the ideal diet for a user's body type. In the Noom dieting app, users enter in their personal lifestyle and diet habits along with weight-loss goals. Once the questionnaire is completed, Noom sends the user a specific plan that encourages not a only diet to reach the goal, but lifestyle shifts in order to achieve and maintain this ideal body weight ("Noom," 2018;noom.com/#). To test out how detailed the application gets for its users, I took the free evaluation online and found the results quite interesting and very user-specific. Diet applications reach beyond the basic logging calories; they take users' information and give them recommendations on how to achieve their ideal physique and make positive lifestyle changes.
Another diet application utilized by many is MyFitness-Pal. This application not only asks users to log their diet down to the smallest detail, it also gives them basic fitness information and recommendations on what kind of exercise they should be doing daily to stay on track to achieve their goals ("MyFitnessPal," 2019; myfitnesspal.com). After entering a general weight-loss goal, users enter their meals, broken down by the ingredient as well as other nutritional information, such as vitamins, protein, fats, etc. Since the application is user-driven, there is a good chance that many of the meals/products have already been entered in by another user or the developers directly. Simply scanning the barcode on the back of many products will upload the information to the user's daily diet profile. The application calculates the macros (a must for many people closely logging their strict diets), and it empowers users to determine what else they can or should eat for the rest of the day in order to stay on track with their goal.
Macro dieting goes beyond counting calories; it helps determine what type of fuel (carbs, protein, fats) an individual should be eating in order to maintain proper energy levels for completing harder workouts and shedding body fat ("IIFYM [If It Fits Your Macros]: A Beginner's Guide," Healthline, June 5, 2018; healthline.com/nutrition/iifym-guide). Diet trackers like MyFitnessPal that do the work of determining macro percentages (a tedious process on paper) give users the potential to tailor diet and exercise like never before. A result of such meticulous meal planning and logging is a lower body fat percentage rate as well as a better-looking body. However, along with these new exciting possibilities in achieving body goals come a new slew of complications, particularly in the realm of eating and exercise disorders as well as overuse injuries.
WHEN HEALTHY EATING BECOMES UNHEALTHY
Orthorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that emerged in the late '90s/early '00s. In simple terms, it is defined as an individual being obsessed with eating healthy to the point that it is damaging to the body. In some cases, the subject feels superior to other people due to his or her diet choices. Whole types of nutrients, for example, carbs, can be eliminated from the diet, which can cause severe complications ("Orthorexia, Excessive Exercise & Nutrition," 2019; eatingdisorderhope. com/information/orthorexia-excessive-exercise). Perhaps tailoring our diets as closely as we can has harmed some of us as much as it has empowered and helped others.
Although this disorder was present in the era of fad diets prior to fitness tech's emergence, it can be proposed that the rise of orthorexia nervosa has coincided with our advancements in diet tracking. A recent study out of Boston University reports on the strong correlation between the rise of "clean eating" and orthorexia: "They [nutrition researchers] are seeing a surge in what they call orthorexia: an obsession with healthy eating that becomes so consuming it takes over almost every part of a person's life" ("Orthorexia: Clean Eating but Crumbling on the Inside," The Brink, March 5, 2019; bu.edu/articles/2019/orthorexia-eating-disorder-nutrition-and-social-media). To combat this issue, Boston University, along with professional sports teams, has enlisted the help of professional dieticians and nutritionists to monitor eating habits of team members to make sure that while athletes are eating clean and tracking their diets, they are doing so in a safe and healthy manner.
Although not recognised as a clinical diagnosis, over-exercising, also called compulsive exercising, is seen often in fitness enthusiasts. Symptoms can include avoiding social engagements to work out or continuing to exercise even while injured or sick. Exercising to the point of exhaustion or before a person's body has had time to recover can have disastrous results on the body ("Compulsive Exercise," 2018; na tionaleatingdisorders.org/learn/general-information/compulsive-exercise). This is a very well-known risk factor for professional athletes, who push themselves to make the most of their prime playing time and even extend their careers for much longer than they should, instead of retiring and finally giving their bodies a rest.
Athletic "burnout' is a traumatic and very real effect of pushing one's body beyond the maximum threshold of performance. According to a study done by the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA), athlete burnout can have disastrous results on an athlete's future and mental health. "Burnout is a response to chronic stress of continued demands in a sport or activity without the opportunity for physical and mental rest and recovery" ("Burnout in Athletes," April 19, 2016; nata.org/blog/bethsitzler/burnout-athletes). Athletes using large amounts of technology to track performance could experience feelings of failure if there are slight drops because they are burned out mentally and even physically. Technology might not give users a chance to recover before pushing them to an even further limit--all in pursuit of a fitness goal or personal best.
OVERUSE INJURIES AND HOW TO AVOID THEM
Mental burnout is not the only effect of over-exercise and users pushing themselves to the limits. There are physical consequences as well. "Overuse" injuries have always been a challenge for professional athletes. However, there is now a disturbing trend of overuse injuries among young athletes, something which was much less common before all of the health technology advances. Basketball youth injuries demonstrate this disturbing trend vividly. According to Nirav Pandya, an orthopedic surgeon at University of California--San Francisco Medical Center, the number of pediatric sports injuries he sees annually has quadrupled in the last 5 years, which has coincided with a mass increase in fitness technology and open access to workout/wellness trends via the internet. And overuse injuries are not unique to children. As professional athletes become stronger and more efficient than ever before, the pressure to remain the best intensifies as well ("What Exactly Are 'Overuse' Injuries? Inside the Epidemic Sidelining Youth Athletes," STACK, July 29, 2019; stack.com/a/what-exactly-are-overuse-injuries-inside-the-epidemic-sidelining-youth-athletes).
In our quest to become our best by utilizing technology, have we also set ourselves up for inevitable failure and even worse--life-changing permanent physical and mental injuries due to too much dieting and exercising? To counter this idea, the more sophisticated the technology becomes, it also creates an awareness and a culture of self-care unlike anything we have ever seen before. Apps such as RocketBody and technology such as whole body cryotherapy promote being mindful of how long it takes for a body to recover after a workout and how to avoid overdoing it when it comes to exercise. If properly utilized, health and fitness technology can help users attain their physical goals and instill in them healthy habits through listening to their body's natural signals and dietary needs. But as each body is different, its potential is also different, and while we might be at our personal best, it might not be enough to reach professional levels, no matter how intense the effort. Fitness technology unintentionally creates a false confidence that everyone can be the best because it is all so readily accessible and easy to operate.
MODERATION IS THE BEST PLAN
Like much of the other areas of technology that are impacting our society, we are experiencing unprecedented advancements that are occurring at lightning speed and are often struggling to keep up. Fitness technology is no exception to this rule, as it propels users years forward in their fitness and health practices. As we do with screen time and social media usage, we should always be monitoring how much we allow fitness technology to impact our lives and evaluating its effects on our physical and mental well-being. The responsibility is not what the technology can do for us, because it is never limitless. Rather, it is what we do with it in our day-to-day lives. Once users crack their personal code, then fitness technology will be a positive addition to their lives.
Portland Community College
Carly Lamphere (email@example.com) is serials specialist for Portland Community College and always reaches her yearly fitness goals thanks to willpower, dedication, and fitness technology.
Comments? Email the editor-in-chief (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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|Date:||Jan 1, 2020|
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