At last month’s International Convention and Trade Show of the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) in Los Angeles, a colleague and I had the opportunity to chat with Polar President Tom Fowler. Our topic of conversation quickly turned to the future of wearable devices. Fowler is particularly interested in biometrics—or statistical analyses of exercisers’ physical and behavioral characteristics—and how such technologies will evolve over the next decade.
At this time, Fowler wasn’t able to speak in detail about biometrics Polar is researching and developing for its products, but he said that wearable devices may incorporate fully responsive nutrition-tracking technology within the next five to 10 years.
“It’s hard to say what form that will take,” he said of on-the-go nutrition-tracking, “but that would be the next step.”
Fowler’s imagination extends beyond calorie counters and dieting reminders. He can envision products whose application would go much deeper, and whose biometrics could profoundly influence consumer decisions at home, at the store and in the gym.
Would such a device require a lot of user input? Would it be more of an all-encompassing medical-wellness instrument rather than a supplemental exercising device?
Right now, the answers are unclear. What is evident: The wearables landscape is changing fast.
In a 2015 report by the Los Angeles Times, University of Phoenix Executive Dean Dennis Bonilla also envisioned the future of wearables as one of nutrition-driven biometrics. (Bonilla is a former Oracle vice president.)
"In the future, your smartwatch will instantly access your medical records, diet and training logs, then sync them with sensors in the supermarket and mall to provide real-time shopping and health advice,” Bonilla told the Times. “Your smart shoes and biometric shirts will remind you to straighten your posture, hydrate and run and walk with correct form to protect your back and knees. A smart bandage will tell diabetics when their blood sugar is running low.”
If this sounds outlandish, it isn’t. Not only are new wearable technologies developing at unprecedented speeds, but other disruptive services—such as Amazon’s new checkout-free, sensor-driven grocery concept—could serve as the glue between wearable devices and Bonilla’s real-time shopping thesis.
“Nutrition tracking is still very manual, and this affects adherence greatly,” MYZONE President Emmett Williams told Club Industry. “This is where cameras in glasses, as an example, will start to play a role, and recognition software will be used to measure what you are eating—automatically and effortlessly.”
Beyond nutrition, Williams is also interested in how health insurance companies and device manufacturers will continue to work together to incentivize healthy consumer behavior. From a fitness-technology standpoint, he views health insurance as a “holy grail,” lauding a recent collaboration between UnitedHealthcare and Fitbit.
Additionally, Williams predicts that exercisers’ movements will eventually power device batteries via “charged clothing.” He also envisions smarter clothing-embedded sensors capable of providing deeper health insights.
“For example, if your heart rate increased but you were physically still, perhaps that is a stress indictor, not an exercise indicator,” he said.
No matter the changes ahead, FitWell President Ted Vickey told Club Industry that fitness industry professionals from all types of clubs must, No. 1, recognize wearable devices as a disruptive force and, No. 2, utilize them for the long-term benefit of clients.
“What technology means for our industry is that those that we have the honor to serve no longer are within the four physical walls of our facility,” Vickey said. “Rather than being a ‘health club,’ forward-thinking leaders in our industry need to consider themselves ‘health hubs,’ where all of the collected wearable data can be collected, analyzed and then applied—all for the benefit of our client."
The club operators who can build effective wearables-driven programming “both inside and outside of the club” will find the greatest success, Vickey said. But this requires interpreting client data and then arming trainers with the analysis, so that they can create “a very powerful membership engagement [experience] through the wearable.”
What are your predictions for the future of wearable technology? Share your thoughts with us in a comment or on social media.