Research by Tata Consultancy Services, the official technology partner of the Virgin Money London Marathon, has found that digital fitness technology is helping make Britain healthier and more active.
We spoke to Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson about why this might be and the digital devices she can’t live without as a professional athlete.
Why has technology always been important in elite sport?
Technology has always been crucial to athletes; it helps you track your progress over time, sheds light on whether or not you’re training in the right way, and helps you identify the small areas for improvement that can make the difference between winning and losing.
What’s really exciting today is the way that in recent years there has been a revolution in the digital tools available to recreational athletes, which is making this kind of data much more accessible.
Why do fitness technologies have a positive impact on people’s health and fitness?
The research conducted by Tata Consultancy Services, the Official Technology Partner for the London Marathon, suggests fitness technologies such as mobile apps and wearables are having a real impact on people’s health and fitness. More than 90 percent of those surveyed said that using fitness technology has led to a change in their health and fitness behaviour.
Three quarters of people say they exercise more since using fitness technology but it is also helping people to be healthier in their daily lives. For instance, four in ten people say that since using fitness technology to track activity, they will take the stairs instead of using a lift or escalator.
Why do they encourage people to exercise more than other methods?
The research suggests that people are motivated by being able to track and analyse their own fitness data. 62 percent find using fitness technology to be a motivator and better, more personalised data is the innovation that respondents would most like to see in the future.
As someone who is passionate about fitness- does the rise in obesity and the amount of people who don’t exercise worry you at all?
As someone that has always been involved in sport, I firmly believe that people do need to be fitter and healthier in general. This isn’t just about running marathons or winning medals – being more active in general, whether that’s leaving your car at home or joining a local sports team, will bring all kinds of benefits.
If technology can help encourage people to do that, it can only be a good thing: even if it’s just running around your bedroom to hit your daily steps target, which more than one in five people admit to doing!
What fitness technology do you rely on the most?
The device I still rely on more than any other is my speedometer. It shows my time and distance and it also has an in-built GPS tracker, which is especially important when I’m training in a location I don’t know well. I have a fairly terrible sense of direction so I genuinely would be lost without it!
Why do you think men spend more on fitness gadgets than women?
The research from TCS found that, on average, men are likely to spend more than women on fitness technology. The average male runner has – in total – spent £93 on fitness technology, compared to £72 for the average female.
It’s hard to say why that is but I guess the old stereotype about men and their gadgets might have something to do with it!
Why do you think fitness technology is perceived as a bragging tool for social media when the stats prove otherwise?
Of course, you do often see people posting on Facebook or Twitter about their workouts but the research found that just 18 percent of respondents said that they have shared their fitness data on social media.
When you consider that 82 percent of recreational athletes use some kind of fitness technology,
I think what this really tells us is that there are huge numbers of people training and exercising but that they are often less visible because they do not share regular updates with their friends and family on social media.
When did your passion for fitness begin?
I was always interested in sport – the only question was what the right one for me to do was? I first competed for Great Britain in wheelchair racing in 1987 and for twenty years after that. For me, the passion came from the fact that I really loved competing and training to be better. And of course – like most sportspeople – I really wanted to win.
What is the best advice for someone who is new to fitness technology?
I think the most important thing when training – whether you’re looking to win a marathon or just become fitter and healthier – is to have a clear sense of what you want to achieve. Do you want to lose weight? Or improve your stamina? Or simply become more active?
It’s important that you have a clear understanding of your goals, because that will help you decide what technology you need, and how you should be using it. The great thing is that there is now a huge range of easy to use devices and apps out there to help you achieve your objectives, whether you’re an absolute beginner or a real techie.
What is next for you?
In terms of my own training, I like to have something to aim for to help me stay motivated and focused so I’m planning on competing in some more 10k races. I’m planning on having a new racing chair made at the end of this year as well.
More generally, I’m coaching a young athlete called Jade Jones, who we hope will be going to Rio later this year, which would be hugely exciting. I’m also working on a number of projects to help encourage more people to get involved in exercise and be more active, whatever their background and ability level.
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