Trainables—wearables that actually help you break bad habits and stick to new ones—could soon steer you away from your old fitness tracker
Fitness trackers have completely changed the way we work out. Now, instead of logging your miles ran, reps completed, and calories eaten by hand (either in a computer or—gasp—with pen and paper), you simply strap on a wearable and go, then scroll through your data whenever you have a second.
But according to research from Northwestern University, that mindlessness is a double-edged sword: The less active role you take in tracking your activity, the less you think about how much you're moving—and the less inspired you are to move more.
“Fitness wearables give you a lot of data about your habits, without actually giving you any beneficial advice when you need it—at that exact moment” that you’re doing something that needs modifying, says wearables expert Oded Cohen. In other words, while you might pledge to, say, stand up more often during the day when you notice you've fallen short of your step goal, there’s a good chance that you won’t consciously remember that pledge when you’re sitting in your desk chair, all wrapped up in your work. And in that instance, just having a tracker strapped to your wrist is no help.
“Wearable users have reached a point where they want to get more than just data,” says Cohen. We're looking for devices that can track our habits, interpret them, and give us in-the-moment feedback that will help us change our bad habits, boost our good habits, and generally take our wellness to the next level. The answer, says Cohen, is trainables.
“A trainable is a wearable that accurately gives real time feedback to maximize behavioral or physical change,” he explains. “Getting the right piece of advice at the right time is incredibly powerful in that it lowers the effort you have to make, and increases the speed of learning.”
Take UpRight ($130, uprightpose.com), a posture-training wearable that Cohen created will be available in October 2015. To use UpRight, you attach it to your lower back via single-use adhesive pads. When you slouch, UpRight gently vibrates, reminding you to straighten up. Sounds simple, but according to Cohen, the results have been outsized. “We hoped to begin to train people to sit up straight in about six to eight weeks. But within a week, all our beta testers reported that their awareness of their own posture increased, and within three weeks, they all reported being able to maintain an upright posture almost unconsciously,” explains Cohen. The best part: UpRight is only meant to be worn for about five minutes to an hour a day.
UpRight isn't the only trainable out there. The wearable Spire ($150, spire.io), for example, tracks your mood and breathing, and reminds you to take mindfulness breaks when you're overly tense. BitBite ($199, indiegogo.com) is a device meant to be worn in your ear that tracks your eating habits, telling you to chew slower or snack at regular intervals. (The indigogo.com page says the final batch of devices will be available by December 2015.) The headband-like Muse ($300, choosemuse.com) teaches you how to meditate via visual and auditory feedback. And the Moov ($60, moov.cc) wristband helps monitor your form when you wear it during a workout.
And these are just the beginning, says Cohen. “Technology is advancing and has reached a point that it can make our training more accurate and effortless than ever before.” He believes the next step is wearables that contextualize your behavior. “So UpRight might tell you why you're slouching, how your mood affects your posture, and how that posture is affecting your productivity,” he says. That will provide even more incentive to change.
It's funny, he says. “In a way, technology has caused us to develop unhealthy habits,” like slouching over our phones or skipping the gym in favor of a Netflix marathon. But, says Cohen, now we can use that same technology to bring us back to a healthier version of ourselves.