Humans are a strange bunch. As far as fitness is concerned, we’re - allegedly - the ultimate predator, able to run down anything over long distances, yet it’s impossible to escape the fact that a large number of us don’t do much running at all. We get our exercise vicariously, from the safety of our living rooms, by watching cops chase robbers on TV or by tuning in to a weekend’s football.
Inevitably, the previous isn’t a sustainable scenario. Humans are not built for such frequent inactivity. However, efforts to get people out onto the rugby field or cycle track haven’t always been successful, even with all the technology we have at our fingertips. Mobile devices, in particular, have been instrumental in the battle to overcome traits like lack of confidence, and a chronic absence of willpower.
Of course, mobile technology has come to dominate just about every industry on Earth. Banking and finance products have been almost eliminated from the high street, likely to the chagrin of people who could never find a NatWest or Halifax open at a convenient time in the first place, while even demanding video media such as Disney+ and BritBox are playable on mobile devices, wherever the user happens to be.
In fact, entertainment seems to have a growing fixation on portability. There are 477,877 games on the Google Play Store, for instance, while even most casinos now have an online presence of some description. The website BonusFinder recently published a comparison of many different sites that work well on mobile devices, including popular brands like PokerStars and NetBet.
Our love of TV and games can’t be the only reason why some people struggle so much with getting enough exercise in, though. Work schedules obviously play a role but there’s some evidence out there that hi-tech devices and apps designed to help us with our workout routines simply don’t work as they’re supposed to. Sadly, though, this is still quite a poorly understood area of study.
The magazine website Wired pointed to a paper posted in The Lancet as evidence that the importance of hardware in health and fitness is minimal. The research, which took place over a year and involved 800 people, discovered that health trackers had no effect at all - and neither did financial incentives. Removing the promise of money during the study made results worse for the affected group.
So, what gives? There’s a possibility that the pressure that people (especially women) feel to exercise and look a certain way is exacerbated by regular alerts and updates from fitness-related technology, producing a negative reaction. A similar problem affects all willpower-based apps. How many times did Duolingo’s regular, increasingly emotional alerts persuade you to drop everything and learn French for ten minutes? How many times did you ignore it, leaving that failure permanently etched in your mind?
The good news is that fitness trackers and mobile apps have become more responsive to users’ needs in recent years, meaning that there’s still very much an incentive to buy one. It’s not just exercise that’s covered by the FitBits and other devices of this world, after all. Heart conditions, diabetes, and even sleep can be turned into information by a few sensors on your wrist.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to fitness but there’s still hope out there for even the most sedentary of humans.