2015 on the horizon
From Samsung Gear and Google Glass to Fitbit and Misfit, the wearable tech industry is booming and we’ll continue to see exciting advances in 2015. ‘The digital health revolution born of the Quantified Self movement [which advocates the integration of technology and data into everyday life] is growing at an exponential rate,’ says Dr Jack Kreindler, medical director of the Centre for Health and Human Performance. ‘Not long ago this data was restricted to elite sport. Now we can buy products that give us this info from Amazon.’
We can also expect wider use of medicalgrade wireless formats such as the Vital Connect HealthPatch and Zephyr BioPatch. ‘The Vital Connect patch monitors heart rate variability, posture, respiratory rate and body temperature, allowing formula one-style biosensor telemetry in the form of simple throwaway plasters, which could help people’s understanding of energy expenditure and recovery,’ Kreindler says. ‘Some companies claim we will soon even have infrared glucometry so you can measure glucose levels without a needle.’
WEAR IT WELL
Smart technology will become more integrated into clothing. In summer 2015 SmartLife will release washable base layers and T-shirts that record heart rate and sweat data. ‘Typically, sensors collect data from accelerometers that monitor how the human is moving – not from the body itself,’ says Dr Ben McCarthy, chief technology officer at SmartLife. ‘But these items will collect the actual biophysical data your body emits, including the electrical activity of your heart and your respiration rate.’
Devices will become more targeted too, such as Sensoria smart socks, which monitor your running cadence, footstrike and gait, and the Atlas – a wearable device that helps gym-goers maintain good form and log reps. ‘It’s programmed to recognise movement patterns,’ says Atlas CEO Peter Li. ‘Imagine painting a dot on a wristband then moving it around. Atlas maps the 3D trajectory of that dot and decodes all the noise to figure out what motion is being performed. First, we built a form database, so if you’re not squatting deep enough or throwing your back into a biceps curl, those errors can be corrected. Second, we can provide the option to flag up an injury, so as the community grows we can extrapolate data from people with bad knees or lower back pain and find the patterns responsible.’
Personalised medicine and nutrition will also develop in 2015 thanks to lab tests available through companies such as Genova Diagnostics and Inside Tracker. ‘A company called Theranos can identify 30 blood markers from a single droplet of blood in a few hours, which will interest those looking at the effects of supplements,’ says Kreindler.
Many athletes will go deeper into their own genetics, with DNAFit already offering genetic tests for specific markers from just £99. ‘Genetics can indicate how you should exercise and eat,’ says Andrew Steele, a 400m runner and testing specialist at DNAFit. The genes it examines include ACTN3, which relates to power and fatigue, and ARG16/Gly, which identifies weight loss resistance. ‘When we know your strengths, injury weaknesses and recovery responses, we can make bespoke interventions. For example, we can tailor reps and sets to your genetic strengths. With nutrigenetics we can find out an individual’s sensitivity to fat and carbs, where they derive their energy from and what they should eat.’
READY AND ABLE
Dr Kevin Currell, head of performance nutrition at the English Institute of Sport, believes it will be 50 to 60 years before genetic tests tell us what we really want to know, but he predicts an imminent expansion of healthy convenience foods. ‘We could see a growth of healthy dehydrated foods, because these are already used to get quality food to travelling athletes.’
And to underline something MF readers have known for years, protein will be more widely recognised as an integral part of a healthy diet – according to Luke Heeney, new product director at Science In Sport. ‘Protein will be used in new formats. I expect more protein drinks in shops and bottles with twist lids that drop powder into a liquid for an instant mix.’
2018 the next big thing
Within three years amateur athletes will have better access to data analysis tools such as the Adidas miCoach Smart Ball and the Sony Smart Tennis Sensor – an 8g device that records racket swing, ball spin and impact zones – to help improve skill acquisition.
The culture of physical training is likely to change too, with shorter, more targeted regimes becoming even more popular with hard-worked, time-poor people. ‘Our understanding of how high-intensity resistance training can dramatically reduce the time needed to improve fitness, weight and body composition is growing,’ says Kreindler. For example, training kit company Milon has created its Strength-Endurance Circuit using machine-based moves that supposedly deliver total-body training in just 171⁄2 minutes. ‘Milon’s circuit has a remarkable effect in a small amount of time, allowing people to deal with far higher training loads.’
We can also anticipate a major expansion of virtual reality training systems. Professional F1 drivers, cyclists and skiers already use the technology to prepare for courses, but with ever-improving virtual reality systems from companies such as Zwift and TacX, everyman performance could increasingly be powered by virtual training.
Shipments of smart wearables are expected to grow from 9.7 million in 2013 to 135 million in 2018, according to CCS Insight, but we will see more advanced technology such as the Moxy Monitor, which uses infrared light to detect how much haemoglobin in the capillaries and cells of your muscles is saturated with oxygen, so you can gauge anaerobic and lactic acid thresholds to work your muscles effectively. ‘With wearables it’ll also be possible to track the electrical activity of muscles with an electromyogram (EMG),’ says McCarthy. ‘That means we’ll know at what point you should come off the football pitch or who you should pass to based on their fatigue levels.’
New methods of collecting data will arrive too. Google and pharmaceutical company Novartis are working on a smart contact lens that monitors blood sugar levels, while American researchers are developing a 5cm2 skin patch that contains 3,600 liquid crystals and can monitor temperature changes in the skin and blood flow. Thanks to the Qualcomm Tricorder XPrize, which is offering $10 million (around £6.2 million) of prize money, we could soon see a Star Trekstyle tricorder – a portable device that could diagnose melanoma, hypertension or glandular fever. ‘In the near future we will see a digital tattoo being used to monitor your body,’ says Kreindler.
Maneesh Juneja, a digital health futurist, believes the key issue is what to do with all the data. ‘With the development of nanosensors, which can be injected, ingested or implanted under the skin, the average fitness enthusiast will know more about what is happening to them, in real time, than sports scientists knew five years ago,’ he says. ‘The disadvantage is “information obesity”: do you need to know what is happening inside you on a real-time basis when you are doing sport?’
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The major nutritional development in the next three years will be a shift towards optimising physical adaptation. ‘The latest research is about the interaction between what we eat and our training,’ says Currell. ‘We train to get fitter, build muscle and run marathons, so we’ll focus on how nutrients amplify that adaptation. For the past ten years we’ve spoken about “fuel” and “recovery”. The new language is “adaptation”.’
Heeney believes there will be two other main hotbeds of research. ‘We will see more use of nitrates, which dilate the blood vessels to help you use oxygen more efficiently, and more about the delivery of carbohydrates. We know how carbs work, but is there a better format of delivery that really moves the game on? That’s the key.’
2020 and beyond the future of fitness
By 2020 we will have witnessed further advances in food science, and new sources of protein could be possible. US start-up company Modern Meadow is examining the potential for 3D-printed meat created using cartridges filled with live cells, while non-profit organisation New Harvest is looking into cultured meat grown in a nutrient-rich broth in a bioreactor. Mark Post of the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands successfully developed a lab-grown burger last year. Meanwhile, Pat Brown, a molecular biologist at Stanford University, is developing a plantbased burger that’s apparently indistinguishable from real meat.
We’re also likely to see more tinkering with food. Wade Young, an associate professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Florida, has been using pulsed light to deactivate the Ara h1-h3 proteins in peanuts, which trigger allergies, hinting at a host of potential health adaptations for other foods in the future. A team from Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh have been working on the use of natural proteins to replace fat and bypass the need for additives in foods, with a spin-off company, Nandi Proteins, now leading the research.
TIME TO GET ILL
Major nutritional advances in the fitness world are likely to emerge from research in unrelated spheres. ‘The use of beetroot juice in improving performance came from blood pressure research and there could be similar cross-overs in the future as most research money tends to be in disease and medical areas,’ says Currell. ‘Diabetes causes metabolic responses in muscles which are not too dissimilar to those experienced by elite athletes so there could be multiple uses.’
How we monitor food, medication and health could also change significantly. Digital health company Proteus has developed Helius, an ingestible microchip that’s 1mm2 – the size of a grain of sand – and can monitor how the body reacts to medication, rest and activity. New techniques could also be harnessed, such as using the chemical pattern of over 3,000 organic compounds on your breath to create a unique ‘smellprint’ that could track disease and health issues. Dr Andrei Semikhodskii, a scientific advisory board member of DNAFit, believes that the cost of New Generation Sequencing (NGS) technology – which allows the complete sequencing of a human genome – will plummet by 2020. ‘In five years’ time the cost of NGS will be about $1,000 [currently around £620] per human genome and most genetic analysis will be done using this technology,’ he says. ‘Genetic information thus obtained will then be stored in databases, and genetic trait association will be added to the description of the individual genome once reliable scientific information is available.’
Wearables will by now have expanded into new areas. ‘They’ll incorporate brain wave analysis through electroencephalography (EEG) or blink analysis through electro-oculography (EOG),’ says McCarthy. Li expects Atlas to expand in a variety of directions. ‘Our API is open so people can access the Atlas engine, test things and learn,’ he says. ‘It could be adapted for yoga, Pilates and swimming or for healthcare industries to monitor Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.’
One thing that seems certain is that fitness should be easier to monitor and maintain by 2020. ‘A major area is smart homes,’ says Juneja. ‘I went to a talk by the CEO of Samsung who explained how homes could offer you options. For example, if devices know you are going to run at lunchtime they could provide an optimised meal plan based on what is in your fridge. We can imagine household companion robots, which could entice people to stay fit without having an expensive PT whom introverted people might feel is judging them if they can’t do enough sit-ups.’
But the future of fitness will ultimately come down to ethics and emotions as much as science and technology. ‘If your home knows from sensors on or in you that you have consumed more calories at work today, would it lock the fridge door when you come home?’ says Juneja. ‘If a smart toilet analyses what you have eaten, would you be happy that by the time you get to the fridge it has sent a personalised meal plan based on that data? The big question is: even if it is technically plausible, is it desirable? Do you want a life governed by algorithms or emotions?’
Men’s Fitness, Future Tech, [January 2015]