“If I collapse ……please pause my garmin!”

Most runner’s are obsessive, they are very particular about where and when they run, what they run in, and how they train – rarely deviating from routines. Runners for the most part are also fixated about measuring everything. Runners measure almost all the possible variables: speed, heart rate, distance, averages, etc. When it comes to “time” there is no other group that is as fanatical about time as runners are. Runners know by heart all of their times, it is the benchmark against which progress is measured. Some runners are more data driven than others but any runner can instantaneously recall their personal best time for any distance, and if you run with a bunch of runners, they will know yours too. Made by Polar, Garmin, Nike and Timex, global positioning system watches track the distance run, the pace, they beep at intervals, like every mile and when the run is, the data can be downloaded to a computer or phone for a full analysis.

While GPS watches are not necessary, many runners find them to be informative, and use the data to help improve performance, both in training and racing. GPS watches are a relatively recent addition to running. The first watches were introduced in the early 2000s. They didn’t offer users the option to upload data for storage or analysis. Since then, GPS reception and battery life has improved significantly, and advances in the technology have allowed devices to get much smaller, making them more practical for everyday wear. So technology is now wearable. They allow sleep quality, the number steps taken and calories burned to be measured. It is capable of tracking heart rate, daily activity levels and exercise; and can even be used as a GPS running watch. It makes these measurements available at a glance and some claim that wearing one means “it’s easier to live healthier and achieve more”. But do these watches really change behaviour, increase activity levels and reduce the risk of health problems…… Yes they do (Lyons et al., 2014) ….. But How? Observing behaviour changes behaviour – known as the “Hawthorne Effect”. Watch wearers increase their activity levels due to the fact it’s being measured (McCambridge et al., 2014). It has been suggested that social support and comparison (facebook boasting) facilitated by the fitness watches may be one of the behavioural change techniques responsible (Lyons et al., 2014). pause-my-garminBut let’s be honest, it’s like wearing your conscience on your wrist. It brings the guilt of “not being active” into the now rather than postponing it, and turning it into a promise. Reaching for the remote, the watch sneaks out from under the sleeve and asks – could you do more? Have you hit your recommended step count for today? Have you earned the calories to eat the fruit and nut? So the obsession with technology often blamed for making us lazy, unhealthy and obese may have the potential to cure us, but only if we can tolerate having our conscience on our wrist.

Innovations in mobile and electronic monitoring devices are not only revolutionizing the running world they have the potential to change the modern healthcare by extending the capabilities of physiological monitoring devices. “eHealth” refers to the use of technologies to improve health, it is an umbrella term that covers health, technology and people. A large proportion of the population has access to and uses the internet in their daily lives (via a PC, tablet, wearables, and/or smartphone). Remote health monitoring, based on non-invasive and wearable sensors, modern communication and information technologies offers an efficient and cost-effective solution that allows healthcare personnel to monitor important physiological signs of their patients in real time, assess health conditions and provide feedback from distant facilities. As a result, eHealth technology is being seen as an answer to the needed innovations in global health care. As an example a new project, based at the University of California, San Francisco and called the Health eHeart Study, uses smartphones, sensors and other devices to collect data from one million participants on blood pressure, physical activity, diet and sleep habits in real time with the aim of giving advance warning of a heart attack or predicting the onset of a dangerous irregular heart beat. The RUNSAFER project created a new running shoe that can correct poor habits or patterns that cause injury. The runner uses a smartphone application and a website to manage the feedback collected from the shoe. With information provided directly, the runner can self-correct immediately. The information is wirelessly transmitted to the mobile phone of the runner while running. A freeware mobile phone application informs in real time, suggesting modifications to change the running pattern in order to avoid running injuries. The number of wearable health and fitness devices are growing by the day meaning today’s digital patient has unlimited access to tools to self-test, self-diagnose and self-treat. Users can measure anything from blood pressure to nutrition and activity levels, putting valuable healthcare data in the hands of the patient allowing them to self manage their own health. This data does not just affect patient empowerment – it’s also of great value to healthcare providers. They can choose traditional service at a hospital if they prefer the in person approach. Or can decide on a more convenient virtual visit with a tele- physician or even request a house call. As this trend seems to be here to stay and is developing all the time, patient empowerment through patient education and patient engagement has to be a focus of healthcare providers, ensuring patients can still reach professional help when needed. But like most and technology it is dependent on appropriate human use – and the moment disaster strikes it is heartbreaking, it is surely every runners worst nightmare – pressing pause on the GPS watch and forgetting to press resume ……. the lost data gone forever!!!

Lyons EJ, Lewis ZH, Mayrsohn BG & Rowland JL. (2014). Behavior change techniques implemented in electronic lifestyle activity monitors: a systematic content analysis. J Med Internet Res 16, e192.

McCambridge J, Witton J & Elbourne DR. (2014). Systematic review of the Hawthorne effect: new concepts are needed to study research participation effects. J Clin Epidemiol 67, 267-277.

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I qualified with an Honours degree in Physiotherapy from Trinity College Dublin in 2004. Since graduating I have worked in St. James Hospital Dublin and have worked in all the areas of speciality within the hospital including cardiorespiratory, orthopaedics, rheumatology, care of the elderly, neurology, burns and plastic surgery among others . I have also completed a post graduate certificate in acupuncture in UCD 2009. The Physiotherapy Department in SJH has strong links with Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and I have supervised undergraduate and postgraduate physiotherapy students on practice placements and also delivered lectures on the undergraduate academic programme in TCD. I have a keen interest in all sports and currently plays with Cill Dara RFC 1st team squad, and Milltown GAA. I have previously worked as Physiotherapist to Co. Carlow Senior GAA Team, Milltown GAA, Leinster Junior Rugby Team and Cill Dara RFC. I am an experienced runner and competed in the Dublin City Marathon in 2002. I continue to participate in running events and multisport disciplines such as Gaelforce West, Gaelforce North and the Motivate Challenge. I have a particular interest in strength and conditioning. I utilise this knowledge of resistance training in the treatment of his clients. I am committed to continuous learning and development in order to ensure the optimal level of care is offered to my clients, and with this in mind I am currently undertaking a certification in Strength and Conditioning (CSCS) with the NSCA.

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