Image source: Hexoskin

Researchers use aerobic fitness data from wearable tech to predict illness

Failing cardio fitness can indicate the onset of certain chronic illnesses according to a new study from one of Canada’s top universities.

The team of researchers from Waterloo’s Faculties of Applied Health Sciences and Engineering monitored active, healthy men in their twenties over a period of four days. All of them wore Hexoskin smart shirts, which are capable of tracking the wearer’s heart rate, heart rate recovery, heart rate variability, breathing rate, activity level, cadence, steps and more. The high-tech garments are used by a number of space agencies, military organizations, and professional sports teams around the world.

Essential reading: Moving away from the wrist – smart clothing you’ll actually want to wear

Researchers extracted data from test subjects as they went about their normal daily activities. They then applied artificial intelligence (AI) to changes in aerobic responses and found that it was entirely possible to accurately predict whether a person’s health is failing using only the smart shirt.

When people start to get sick, their physical activity typically declines, and lack of physical activity is tied to some diseases. The study concluded that such data could one day be used to indicate the onset of certain chronic illnesses without a doctor or formal test.

“The onset of a lot of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, has a direct impact on our aerobic fitness,” said Thomas Beltrame, who led the research while at the University of Waterloo, and is now at the Institute of Computing in University of Campinas in Brazil.

“In the near future, we believe it will be possible to continuously check your health, even before you realize that you need medical help.”

This type of research demonstrates the power of AI and its potential to transform the health and wellness industry. By using data that we routinely get from fitness trackers, smartwatches and other sensor embedded items, we can be armed with predictive knowledge that will allow us to deal with the onset of illness at an early stage.

“The research found a way to process biological signals and generate a meaningful single number to track fitness,” said Richard Hughson, co-author and kinesiology professor at the Schlegel-University of Waterloo Research Institute for Aging.

Its fair to say, the types of garments used in this study have yet to reach mass market appeal and currently lag behind fitness trackers and smartwatches. But sensors embedded into everyday wear are in a great position to understand the minute workings of the body.

Details on the study can be found in the Journal of Applied Physiology. The team now plans to widen the research to see if it works on mixed ages and genders, as well as people with known health issues.

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