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Technology promoting physical activity & healthier lifestyles

Thursday 28th July 2016
MSP Citylabs


  • Carmel Dickinson (Programme Manager, Manchester Informatics)
  • Liz Ashall-Payne (International Outreach Coordinator, ECHAlliance)
  • Naomi McVey (Community Lead, @WeAHPs; Programme Manager, AHP Workforce, Health Education England NW ) 
  • Wendy Meredith (Greater Manchester Director of Population Health Transformation)
  • Jane Pilkington (Head of Public Health Commissioning, NHS Greater Manchester Area Team)

On July 28th representatives from the health tech industry, NHS, local government, and academia from across Greater Manchester (GM) met at MSP CityLabs to hear from a range of programmes and initiatives on how to utilise technology to promote physical activity and healthier lifestyles.

The get together was the latest quarterly meeting of the Manchester Connected Health Ecosystem, organised in association with the Greater Manchester Academic Health Science Network (AHSN).

July’s session was aimed at promoting and developing learning, collaboration, and promotion of healthcare technologies across the range of organisations involved in GMs Health & Social Care landscape.

With a number of physical activity initiatives springing up across the city region – from work strands in CityVerve, to the Health & Social Care Devolution Team’s ‘Get Manchester Active’ survey, and Greater Sport’s ‘Beat the Street’ – this seemed like a hot topic for discussion.

A city on the move

After an introduction from Dan Morley, who manages business development for the Ecosystem, I was invited to speak about the connection between physical activity and the IoT – and how CityVerve will use this next generation of connected technologies to get people in Manchester moving.

Through the use of wearable sensors, working age adults will be able to provide direct feedback to health and social care practitioners on improved health levels. This will establish an evidence base for intervention, with the aim of increasing recreational and everyday walking amongst GM citizens.

In addition, by deploying IoT technologies in physical activity for moderately ill patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), CityVerve aims to alleviate pressure on healthcare services through increased engagement in self-care and reduced service demand.

The ‘Beat the Street’ initiative in Salford, due for launch in January 2017, is another example of technology encouraging physical activity.

Using strategically placed sensors equipped with RFID technology  – known as ‘Beat Boxes’ – on lamp posts across the area, people will be encouraged to score points based on their walking distances. This in turn will provide valuable information that can assist with such things as transport planning and the design of future urban environments.

These are important steps (pun intended!) in helping people to get moving; indeed, some 55% of respondents to the ‘Get Manchester Active’ survey said they wanted to be more physically active. Our work with CityVerve is about deploying the technologies that will help the people of Manchester achieve that goal.

Taking the conversation online

The Ecosystem also explored how social media and ‘viral’ content can help drive and motivate people to take part in physical activity.

From popular Twitter campaigns such as #thisgirlcan, through to examples of gamification of exercise, there are many ways to use the technology that is increasingly ubiquitous in our everyday lives.

After all, the incredible success of the similarly ubiquitous Pokémon Go is a stunning example of how gamification can reinvent perceptions of how to improve physical activity without it being called the sometimes unpopular ”exercise.”

This theme – how physical inactivity can be combatted using technology and what the barriers are to deploying technology – was the subject of much debate in the workshop sessions.

There was a general consensus that technology for physical activity needed to be viewed as an enabler: focusing on entertainment first, exercise second. Much more needs to be done to change behaviours.

With CityVerve just beginning its journey towards making Manchester a smarter city, we hope to see much more develop out of this and other programmes of activity – with the Connected Health Ecosystem continuing to act as a conduit for sharing best practice and developing collaborations across Greater Manchester.

Carmel Dickinson (Programme Manager, Manchester Informatics)