Technology is a double-edged sword. On one hand it has contributed to the sharp rise in sedentary lifestyles over the last 10 years. On the other hand, the widespread of fitness technology such as smartphone applications and wearable technologies offers innovative solutions to increase and promote physical activity. Currently, more than 6.8 billion people worldwide use mobile phones. An analysis revealed that there are over 40,000 health and fitness apps currently available to the public (e.g., Map My Walk, Runkeeper, My Fitness Pal), and over half of smartphone users report having downloaded such applications. Typically, children in Birmingham have access to at least one device, such as a tablet or smartphone or some form of games console. In fact, research shows that by the age of 10 years, the average child across the UK have access to five different screens at home.
Examples of initiatives that have reduced inactivity in children by incorporating technology.
Virtual Reality is an exciting advancement of the human/computer interface with potential use in health sector. Immersive virtual reality utilises head-mounted displays, body-motion sensors, real-time graphics, and advanced interface devices (e.g., specialised helmets) to offer experiences in a simulated environment. Physical immersion is accomplished through an ambulatory, 3D environment that allows the child to navigate the virtual world by walking or running through the virtual (and real) space —with real scale movement. Spacial immersion is characterised by a virtual world that is perceptually convincing to the child, and the child perceives their movement to match that of the real world based on believable optical information. The physical activity sector is starting to recognise the power that these technologies have for engaging inactive you people. For example, at Sport Birmingham we are incorporating VR headsets into a Commonwealth Festival we are hosting for schools at the Alexander Stadium in April. Children will be able to run, jump, walk around virtual spaces.
For those that aren’t familiar, Geocaching is a hide-and-seek, treasure-hunting game that is played worldwide and uses Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to find hidden caches. Once registered, a user will find the coordinates for a ‘cache’ for which they want to search, and enter those coordinates in their GPS system. Perhaps the most famous example is Pockimon Go, which although not without it’s controversy, engaged thousands of children in outdoor walking. We should make clear our suggestion for geocaching to be a family activity… we do not advise that children participate alone. Find out more here: https://www.geocaching.com/play
The use of 3D printing is seemingly endless for sport and health. From creating prosthetics in surgery, to aerodynamic parts in motorsport.
For us at Sport Birmingham, we have used 3D printing to inspire children to be active in a way that suites them. Many of you will have no doubt heard of The Daily Mile… a campaign that we endorse that encourages primary school children to run/walk for 15 minutes a day. In light of the commonwealth Games, we encouraged children across Birmingham to design a Daily Mile baton that could be passed round primary school children during their Daily Mile in the lead up to the Commonwealth Games. We then 3D printed their designs and brought their ideas to life! Check out the project video here: https://youtu.be/Oumj3sbai3U
Interactive Video Games
Although interactive video games, like Dance Dance Revolution (DDR), Wii Sports, Wii Fit, Sony Play Station, Xavix, and EyeToy games were designed to create a more engaging game play, studies show that these games increase energy expenditure and may produce positive health benefits . Many fitness centres , schools, and senior centres are now offering interactive games to promote physical activity of children, adolescents, and older adults. These interactive games are well suited for playing alone or with others, and they require little training or skill, provide an alternative to exercising in bad weather, and may serve as a transition to actually participating in sports and physical activities. Acute bouts of interactive gaming have also improved children’s cognitive processes.
The idea of using technology to monitor physical activity has been around since the emergence of personal electronic devices. The earliest iteration could arguably be the pedometer. These devices have transitioned to wearable activity trackers with the emergence of fitness bands, smartwatches, and accessories that track steps, physical activity, heart rate, and additional health-related data . We at Sport Birmingham advise caution with the adoption of these devises, but do recognise the motivational boost that children can receive when part of a class or family movement challenge. A large meta-analysis found that interventions that provided physical activity trackers for young people improved physical activity and mobility. In 2021, we partnered with schools in Birmingham to provide Moki Health activity trackers for a group of children as a way of monitoring the peaks and troths of activity in a child’s school and home life. Anecdotally, we found that children were less engaged in their lessons when they had been sedentary in the previous hour.
Children’s use of technology is, rightly so, a topic of much contention and debate in many households. The considerations of how, where, who and for how long children use technology are a complex balance of psychological, ethical and health factors and it is far beyond us to weigh in on such a topic. What we hope this blog post has done, is showcase some of the positive uses of technology to improve children’s physical health… and allow you to gain a deeper understanding of how it can be used within your home or family life.