With the rise of AI (artificial intelligence) seeping into everything we do — chatbots, texts, insurance claims — we wondered if exercise was getting too swole with tech? Our hunch was right. Other than the elite athletes who track every part of their workouts to increase optimal performance, the everyday health nut wants to disconnect from gadgets and tracking devices when they exercise as a time to clear their minds and give their thumbs a break. Here’s why.
Our indoor lives are inundated with technology. And more and more, it’s following us outside. Smartwatches, tracker apps, virtual reality, and more are pushing the envelope and changing the way people crank, pump, swim, and run. But does tech really help us enjoy the great outdoors? If not, how do we know when to pull the plug?
According to a recent CDC report, only 22.9 percent of adults get enough exercise. Many professionals (and the entire industry) tout the benefits of tech in our workouts and time outdoors. For instance, smartwatches and apps show some promise in motivating people to exercise. But is there an over-saturation? There are over 8,000 health and fitness apps battling for hard drive space and screen time, and the number is growing. Wearable tech is the number one trend in health fitness. The U.S. Spends over $10 billion a year on fitness equipment, with tech getting a larger piece of the pie every year. Is all the hype really getting greater gains?
Consumer Reports endeavored to find an answer. Not surprisingly, they didn’t really find one. Enough evidence exists to substantiate almost any claim in the emerging industry. Regardless, the “quantified self” movement has tucked itself into the fabric of the American workout scene, manifesting itself with vast amounts of workout data, from heart rate to electrolyte levels, easily quantified and shareable to friends at the click of a button. After all, is it really a record run if it isn’t Facebook official? Doctors are even able to “prescribe” exercise to patients, monitoring physical activity through the watchful, omnipresent eyes of smart devices.
CR surmised that tech is a double-edged sword. If people are interested in results, CR found accountability and community are the common ingredients in any workout regimen. Tech on its own isn’t enough.
“On their own, these devices generally aren’t enough to change behaviors,” says Matthew Buman, an associate professor in the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University. “You need education and support to really make it work.” Greater gains are only one piece to the puzzle . Imagine your yoga flow, the zen-like state constantly being interrupted by your smartwatch or fitness app. How’s my pulse? Is my form good? Yeah. Kinda defeats the purpose of yoga. But let’s face it; we’ve all been there. We’ve all treated exercise like a one-dimensional task to be crossed off the list, not as an immersive, multidimensional experience demanding full attention of the mind and body. What happens when we partition workout into a mere set of data points to be observed, shared, and compared? Evidence suggests it may produce better physical results but at the cost of bankrupting the experience.
Athlete and Huffington Post contributor Francis Sanzaro warns against tech as a usurper of body intelligence and argues that its role in exercising is redefining fitness. And not in a good way. “Fitness, and what it means to work out and what we are supposed to get out of the workout … is being redefined by an industry whose track record, let’s face it, is not in favor of cultivating bodily intelligence, which is what fitness is about,” Sanzaro wrote.
Marrying two good things together isn’t always the best idea, he goes on to say. He warns of technological ricochet pinging around dangerously in the collective understanding of fitness. “The application of technology to fitness is one of those awkward relationships we need to rethink,” he said. “When you pair two things that shouldn’t be, you inexorably change both.” He argues that a person only attains fitness with mindful workouts. Fitness, therefore, is an act of attention to the body. In a data-saturated, tech-laden gym or trail, the attention necessary for true fitness is lost.
“If your workouts are distracted, you will not reap the benefit after the workout,” he said. Gadgets, designed to foster greater awareness of the body, “… cannot, by definition, provide increased bodily awareness because, in fact, they take attention away from our bodies. Data and screens are not substitutes for the body.”
Inviting tech for a run, swim, or to the gym will eventually sever the bodily intelligence of a workout, Sanzaro argues, which guts motivation. Is tech opening or closing the doors to the Great Outdoors? University of Washington psychology professor Peter Kahn is renowned for his studies into the relationship between humans and nature. Quartz recently mined Kahn for his insights into sundries of technological gadgetry designed to augment the workout experience. For Kahn, the newest thing to hit the shelves is, more or less, missing the point entirely.
“[S]uch examples miss the large trends that are shaping our species,” Kahn said. “People need to interact with actual nature.”
The solution, he argues, isn’t more gadgetry meant to enhance or supplant the real thing. “No, the solution is ever-deepening our interactions with nature and having more wild nature to interact with,” she said. “I doubt we need tons of new technology.”
Like Sanzaro, Kahn is more interested in the experience of a workout than quantifying it.
In summation, if geeking-out over tech makes builds better body intelligence for you, maybe a little extra silicon in your workout regime could be a good thing. At the end of the day, any workout aid should serve to enhance the experience and should be critically scrutinized if it demands more attention than the experience itself.