Smart clothing set to boom but is smarter better when it comes to getting active outdoors?
A recent report produced by Global Market Insights noted that the smart clothing market would be worth $4.5 billion in less than six years’ time. The prediction includes the so called wearables tech market – one which has grown rapidly in the outdoor and leisure sector in the last two years.
Indeed the rate of innovation is remarkable. Our phones can talk to our watches – which already beep insistently if you have not hydrated sufficiently to perform at the optimum level – guiding us across the most remote of landscapes, while new-fangled compression shirts can capture GPS readings – don’t ask me how – and even your heart rate if you wish.
How long will it be before fabric technology can also provide you with real-time exact nutritional requirements during exercise? Not very long at all according to some industry commentators following the discovery that silkworm larvae fed on a diet of graphene and carbon nanotubes can spin a blend of silk that is both incredibly strong and electrically conductive.
If you’d never heard of either graphene or carbon nanotubes however, I’m quite sure you will not be alone. In all seriousness, whatever happened to those who measured the distance run, walked or cycled with a bit of string and a paper map? Does anyone still just head out into the hills and see where the day takes them? Is it not possible to go for more than a few minutes without consuming the latest scientifically proven energy bar or checking one’s heart rate to ensure exactly the right number of calories are being burnt?
Ok, so times have changed. But is it progress or are we generally losing sight of some of most important benefits of outdoor exercise and recreation. It’s supposed to be fun after all. Of course a day on the hill or a few hours on the bike remains for many, as cathartic as ever. Escapism perhaps, or simply a chance to breathe, to take stock and reflect on what matters in life. And it is still fun.
The problem is that as technology assumes an ever greater role in everyday life, it not only becomes harder to step away from those everyday stresses, but we are at risk of creating new ones, of adding new pressures rather than simply enjoying the great outdoors for what it has always offered, namely space and freedom, both mental and physical.
Of course the benefits of regular physical activity are well documented – from reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease to some forms of cancer and obesity – and if technology helps more people to become active, or if smart fabrics motivate others to remain so, then so much the better.
Like most things in life, the key perhaps, is balance. The most important thing is to get out and get active. But the next time you go, try leaving the tech behind. Just once. Put on an old t-shirt, turn the phone off, leave the power-gels at home. Get back to basics and just enjoy what you do.
You might find the next time you go out, that you’re actually less tired, a little faster, and your heart rate has dropped.
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