Data Driver: Fitness

Data_Fitness_1Fitness might seem like an unlikely area where data has an impact today.  This article introduces to areas where data is making its way and will change the landscape permanently. Initially, fitness data was predominantly collected by academics and applied for research in health and lifestyle areas. Prediction and analytics played a minor role in analyzing various cause, effects and relationships, but was restricted to healthcare. One good example of this type is Framingham Heart Study, which tries to predict the risk of heart disease based on different parameters. (Note: Although this study considers majority of parameters based on health indicators such as sugar level, cholesterol etc, Body Mass Index (BMI), a measure closely related to fitness is also used)

Fitness and data joined hands together when awareness about fitness grew among the population regarding benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Wearable devices that could capture data first became popular and it even is today. Broadly, there are three distinct stages of evolution of these devices

  1. Devices were first introduced that can track basic activities e.g. Pedometer for number of steps taken while walking.
  2. Devices started getting smart with more sensors and monitored more than one measure e.g. Speed of Jogging, Heart Rate, Distance Covered, Calories Burnt etc in the same device.
  3. Devices connected to internet and sent the data collected for more analysis as well as sharing in social media websites.

After the third stage, massive quantities of data exploded into the scene. A personal trainer now can look at near real-time data and provide instant feedback. Wearable technology is getting stiff competition from smart phones. Smart phone applications utilize the different sensors embedded within the device to emulate the specialized devices and are really accurate in pin pointing the actual position type of activity a person is performing.

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So, what will happen if every activity is tracked every second and what is the use of this data. Currently the data collected is put to “self use” by tracking history, sharing with groups and analysis of past performance.

Interest has spawned from Healthcare Providers and Insurance Companies, who will use the data to provide customized services to individuals. There is an initiative although in blueprint stage, which rewards people with money at the end of every month if they meet daily quota of exercise for the whole month.

Proactive monitoring may become the norm, but there are issues that needs to be addressed. It is not just fitness tasks like jogging or yoga, but any activity such as sleeping, high pitch talking or can be tracked and shared easily. Privacy (of the individual) and Protection (of the data) are two main challenges that lie ahead.

Fitness and data are tightly intertwined now, which will be the course of future and many new innovative applications will come to make our life easier.