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The future of fitness: Why employers are turning to professional wearable tech

You may be one of the 25 million active Fitbit users around the world (as of January 2018).

You may use it to help monitor your exercise, sleep patterns and ensure you do your 10,000 steps. Or maybe it just looks cool and it’s quite interesting to see what your resting heart rate is.

Like joining the gym in January and only going once, many people buy a Fitbit, Jawbone Up or Nike Fuelband to help achieve their health and fitness goals, but find themselves no more motivated to exercise &mband leaving them no healthier than before. Studies have revealed how wearables can only help the most motivated users, that 10,000 steps won’t make you healthy and even how heart-reading inaccuracies have led to weight gain!

But the next generation of health and wellness wearables is already tackling these problems. They are part of a holistic revolution in health care that focuses on more than just your heart rate or step count — and, this time, employers are the early adopters.

Wellness, wearables and work

Most people take some interest in their own health and well-being (even if they do little about it), but it’s employers who are taking a leading role in maintaining the health of their employees - and wearables are playing a key role. As Firstbeat From  Optima-Life Commercial Director Tim Wright states, it is HR (learning and development teams) who are driving cutting edge preventative health initiatives, not occupational health, employee benefits or private medical insurers.

By 2017, 35 percent of health conscious employers in the U.S. were using wearable devices to develop effective, value-driven corporate wellness programs for employees. They recognise the need for a holistic approach to health and wellness — not just encouraging healthy habits and providing discounted gym membership.

And technology is leading the way.

The tech of tomorrow, today

The heart-rate monitor on your wrist works by shining light onto your skin and sensing how it reflects — a process called photoplethysmography (PPG) — to measure blood flow pressure. Pulse detection from the wrist is very challenging and tends to vary depending on the individual, situation and intensity of motion — and so accuracy varies.

Rather than rely on PPG, professional wearable devices use an electrocardiogram (ECG.) They measure the biopotential — potential energy needed for electricity to move between living cells — that is generated by electrical signals of the heart. These gadgets give experts accurate and reliable measurements and consistent results across situations and persons.

While consumer products can track steps, sleep and calories burned, professional wearables can measure stress, recovery and activity data that can show stressful moments as well as possible underlying reasons. Used in tandem with a mobile app diary — like HRV Trace — this allows the client’s feelings to be compared to objective and quantifiable data. For example, by using the Firstbeat Bodyguard HRV device with a personal mobile diary you can see the impact of daily choices — food, exercise, alcohol — on stress, sleep, recovery and other health indicators.

Key to the success of professional wearables is how the data is collected and used. While many of us look at our Fitbit data in isolation, employers are using health and fitness trackers within a holistic wellness-based system that uses a range of data to inform lifestyle decisions. This approach aims to offer the best health outcome rather than target a specific goal such as losing weight (though it can help define and manage goals).

As consumers we must interpret (or Google) the biometric data our tracker gives us. But as part of an employee wellness scheme, specialists are able to interpret the data for us and make the best recommendations for our overall well-being. The innovation is as much about application as it is technology. For example, some companies are using data to aid stress solutions from fatigue and burnout to anxiety and even suicide.

Stats

One clinical trial* of an integrated wearable and support initiative resulted in 55% of respondents gaining valuable information about personal stress factors, 63% about recovery and 32% about physical activity habits. 79% made one or more positive lifestyle changes that supported their wellbeing. [* Offline source: Firstbeat Lifestyle Assessment Final Report 10/2015]

Another study** by Fit for Leadership (2018) found how data from wearables allows us to compare our perceptions with objective data. The study aggregated data from 100 different UK NHS organisations from around 1,500 days and nights. With more than a billion data points, it provided an insight into how nurses, doctors and others feel and are coping themselves. Called a Lifestyle Assessment, it allows organisations to map behaviours and feelings against physiological responses. [** Offline source: NHS Lifestyle Assessment: Key human performance indicators 02/2018]

The results show how even health professionals who are trained to assess other human beings are out of tune with themselves. The findings from an aggregated cohort of over 500 NHS workers shows that there is a considerable difference between people’s perceptions and objective data. For example: 63% thought they were doing enough physical activity to be healthy, but only 28% were.

Fit for Leadership CEO, William Ker Tyler, says: “Data only has benefit if it leads to the development of thoughts and focuses individuals on areas of their health they may want to improve on, and organisations on employee health and wellness areas they may want to support. If the workforce that powers the NHS — those trained to assess human beings — are often out of tune with themselves, then it is important to allow them to have the occasional moment to think about themselves and encourage team leaders to create a culture where people are supported in doing so.”

Expats

Digital technology has a large and positive role to play in expats’ lives. Health and wellness can pose a particular challenge for those who live away from home, from access to health care and language barriers to setting up a healthy lifestyle and diet after relocation.

As such, technology such as virtual health is helping expats maintain a healthy lifestyle, and wearables like fitness trackers are doing the same. It signals a shift from insurers being the people who pay when you get ill, to medical professionals who support customers in creating healthier lifestyles.

Virtual health — the future for expats

Transcript

By using wearable tech as part of an integrated health and wellness plan, expats can access insights and information to help build a healthy lifestyle — from exercise and nutrition to coping with the increased stresses of living in another country.

If you want to know more about the health and wellness tech, tools and support available as part of a health plan, why not get in touch with one of our expert sales consultants.

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