The future of health and fitness

Last updated 15:50 02/07/2013

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Forget robots and hoverboards, the future is far more sophisticated than Hollywood predicted and will transform the way we look at health and fitness in the future. Here are five of the hottest trends and predictions.

Seriously smart phones

Engineers from Cornell University have developed a plug-in smartphone accessory which provides a portable way to diagnose and treat a range of viral diseases in remote locations.

It's predicted this same technique can be used to detect other conditions such as E. coli and hepatitis and will revolutionise health care for billions of people in third world countries.

Smartphone apps that monitor blood pressure, chart eye exams and calculate medical formulas are already commonly used by medical professionals around the world.

Futurist and author Oliver Freeman says we have just scraped the surface of what we can achieve with this technology.

"Mobile technology is changing the focus for intervention by extending the medical reach way beyond traditional walls," he says.

"Add to this the digitisation of health records and you have a potent formula for empowering clients of health services and increasing the productivity and innovation in service delivery."

Personal genetics

Accessing details of your own DNA has become simple and affordable thanks to online genetic testing companies.

Catherine Afarian of genetic testing company 23andMe predicts that as technology advances, genetic discoveries can lead to cures and new treatments for a variety of health conditions.

"The better we understand DNA and how it informs disease function in the human body, the better we will be able to develop new treatments and in some cases hopefully new cures," she says.

Futurist Janine Cahill says that understanding our own DNA means we can take precautions to ensure we stay mentally and physically healthy throughout our lives.

However she warns that misuse of this technology could raise moral and ethical concerns for the future as the ability to genetically engineer to create 'designer babies' becomes a reality.

Fun Fitness

The Nintendo Wii got us off the couch and so began the mainstream introduction of gaming into health and fitness. For the next generation growing up on gaming, it just seems like common sense to integrate the two.

"Novelty and fun increase patient engagement and have a positive effect on creating new neural pathways in the brain," explains founder of technology group Healthinnov8 Lissanthea Taylor.
"Games aid learning and make long term positive behaviour more likely to continue."

It's not all fun and games though. Emerging technology shows there can be a serious side to gaming. "New products like Google Glass and Microsoft Kinect are repurposing this technology to create movement-related games which can be used specifically for injury rehabilitation.

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Doctors of the future will even be able to practice procedures on virtual patients," she adds.

The future of food

It's predicted that by 2050 the world's population will stand at nine billion. What we eat and how it is produced will be important issues.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) the solution lies with insects.

These protein-packed morsels are already enjoyed by millions around the world and are a nutritious alternative to traditional meats. Dr Alan Yen of the Department of Environment and Primary Industries says there are 1500 to 1900 known edible species of insects around the world, the most common being mealworms and house crickets.

Health benefits aside, because insects don't require any additional land to grow their own food, their impact on the environment is minimal. In fact insects can even be fed from organic waste streams.

Monitor me

The humble pedometer has evolved in leaps and bounds. It now has the capacity, not just to track our footsteps, but our every movement. This intuitive monitoring technology can personalise health advice based on how you sleep, eat and move throughout the day.

Products such as the Jawbone UP can give precise measurements of your health and wellbeing.
For medical practitioners, such devices mean diagnosis can begin long before you enter the clinic.

"The real strength in these quantified self-devices is their ability to make positive behaviour change in an individual," says Taylor.

"Data doesn't change behaviour, but as part of a comprehensive management plan, affordable and convenient personal measurement and monitoring will become the norm for measuring healthy behaviour."

Cahill says that the forecast for this technology could see the creation of things such as a 'smart cat'.

"This would be of great service to the elderly and could play games, remind us when our favourite show TV show is on, reads books, remind us when to take medicine and vitamins or answer phone calls."

- Sydney Morning Herald

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