Health, Medicine and Sensors

Many approaches to health and medicine involve various forms self-monitoring as a powerful force for motivation, change and improvement. Generally, the more accurate and the more frequent the self-monitoring the greater the potential for real progress as well as the prevention of harm. heart rate monitor strapped on chestThe self-monitoring process can be time-consuming and tedious, whether it is writing down and calculating calories for everything you have eaten on a given day, or recording physical exercise progress in order to gauge the need for changes in exercising. One of the strengths of digital sensor technology is shown in the clickable YouTube movie on the left, using a chest strap sensor wirelessly reporting heart data to the handheld watch display. That is, such designs have the capacity to manage the tedium of collecting and reporting data (in this case personal data). There is also the potential to more seamlessly integrate data with other information and to transform it into new levels of understanding as well as connect with various forms of Net communication. A number of health related sensor compositions are available on the market, many of which are more medically oriented and require the involvement of a physican, such as a heart pace maker or an insulin pump. Other are more directly relevant for educational use in schools and homes. Some examples that address current student health issues will be discussed below.

Whether those reading this page that have taken PE 361, Physical Education for Elementary Teachers, or not, there is widespread knowledge that the United States of America and other countries are facing a major child health crisis, an "international epidemic of childhood obesity" (Ebbeling et al, 2002). The obseity epidemic includes within it, a diabetes epidemic (Rocchini, 2002)), an intolerably high and growing level of children that are in danger of facing coronary artery disease, peripheral vascular disease, blindness, kidney problems and loss of sensation in the hands and feet because of their weight challenges (Cole et al, 2000). One element of addressing that crisis is to not only help more people get more exercise, but more people to get the right exercise and to find the motivation to maintain the right degree of that exercise. Research also shows that the significant adults around children who are obese serve as role models. "Parental obesity more than doubles the risk of adult obesity among both obese and nonobese children under 10 years of age" (Whitaker et al, 1997). Sensor designs have found a role play in helping to meet this health problem for both adults and children, devices known as heart rate monitors and what I will call exercise repetition trackers.

Heart Rate Monitors

Heart rate monitors are used to determine the target zone, the best level of exertion to achieve the most benefit from some form of exercise.

There are many brands and kinds of heart rate monitors from names such as Polar, ePluse, Mio, Nike and more. The Polar heart rate monitor provides one example of how such devices are not only being used in schools but being used as a source of sensor data that can be integrated into other content areas, such as science and math. See the videoclip about the school integration of Polar's heart rate monitor.

More information about school application can be found at Polar's Web site on Polar Heart Rate Monitors.

The PE Central Web site also provides a wide range of lesson ideas as examples of how such activities should be integrated into professional practice.

Repetition Trackers

One manufacturer of running shoes, Nike, has designed the Nike+, using an accelerometer sensor and a transmitter embedded in a running shoe which wirelessly transmits data using ANT, a proprietary wireless sensor network technology, to a device that stores the data, either a Sportband or some version of the iPod or iPhone. The design stores and reports information showing or speaking the elapsed time of the workout, the pace, calories burned and distance traveled via a screen or headphones.

As of the spring of 2009, this concept has evolved into the seven largest commercial equipment providers shipping exercise equipment including treadmills, stationary bikes, stair climbers, ellipticals and more that contains their own sensor-transmitter pairs using wireless technology to communicate directly with recording devices worn by those exercising.

Motivation and Comprehensive Compositions

Digital technology is also helping to compose mixes of different forms of digital composition that are used to address a key issue of the health movement, finding the motivation to persist. Instead of connecting the Nike+ sensor with just a Sportband data receiver, it can be connected with devices that can hold thouands of songs played into a headphone set. Further such devices can be connected to a computer which can in turn report the data anonymously to a Web site. The Nike+ Web site provides more motivation through fun, the use of a wide range of elements of the digital palette, further long term analysis, motivational goals and stories, competition such as virtual racing, and connection with others working on similar goals using discussions forums.

The Nike+ concept is also a superb example of the converging nature of digital composition which seeks an artful mix of experiences, in this case connecting the reality of being physically active outdoors and indoors with more abstract elements including music media, data tracking, mathematical analysis in graphical and animated forms, and the use of a Web site which mixes a wide range of media while requiring good reading and digital communication fluency. Click the video image below for the RGA design company's overview of the challenge and outcome of putting together this integrated composition on the theme of motiational exercising.


These designs/compositions are most likely the forerunners of other innovative approaches to come.


Cole, T. J.; Bellizzi, M. C.; Flegal K.; & Dietz, W. H.(2000). Establishing a standard definition for child overweight and obesity worldwide: international survey. Quality and safety in health care. 320(7244), 1240.

Ebbeling, C.; Pawlak, D.; Ludwig, D.(2002). Childhood obesity: public-health crisis, common sense cure. The Lancet, 360(9331), 473-482.

Rocchini, A. P. (2002). Childhood Obesity and a Diabetes Epidemic.
New England Journal of Medicine. 346: 854-855.

Whitaker, R.C.; Wright, J. A.; Pepe, M.S., Seidel, K.D., Dietz, W.H. (1997).
Predicting Obesity in Young Adulthood from Childhood and Parental Obesity
New England Journal of Medicine. 337: 869-873.

Wikipedia (2009). Nike+iPod. Retrieved September 29, 2009 from

Chapter Home Frame  |  September 29, 2009 |  Updated Page author: Houghton