Carleton-designed technology helps seniors stay fit

Though they’ve probably never Skyped, paid a bill online or played Nintendo, seniors could soon be using Carleton-designed technology to stay in shape.

Industrial design students have dreamed up a whole line of helpful-yet-simple exercise products – from vibrating belts to high-tech suspenders – aimed to assist seniors at the gym.

“Body awareness changes as you get older,” says student Jane Marusaik, who visited Churchill Seniors Recreation Centre to observe how seniors get exercise. “Sometimes people’s perception of what they’re doing is different from what is actually happening.”

Students came to the conclusion that seniors could benefit from wearable workout gadgets that could tell them when they’re not doing something with sounds, lights and vibration.

“It took a little while for them to warm up to the idea,” says Marusaik, who designed a workout belt that vibrates when the lower back is out of position during floor exercises. “They definitely were not shy about saying what they thought wouldn’t work.”

The resulting elderly innovations were simple enough for non-gadget savvy users yet smart enough to actually track or monitor the performance of people with varying problems from arthritis to high blood pressure to back problems.

Take student Tamara Phillips’ design, for instance. She came up with a solution based on an article of clothing that might already exist in the closets of many seniors: suspenders.

But these suspenders do a lot more than just hold your pants up – they also vibrate when you’ve lifted your shoulders too high or when you’ve started hunching.

“The main purpose of this device was to help participants feel their own body and posture while exercising,” says Phillips, who saw seniors struggle to maintain their posture during workouts. “This was something that came up over and over in the research sessions and was a key factor in assisting the elderly to self-monitor the effectiveness of their exercise routines.”

While the newly invented devices could actually work, in theory, for just about anyone, they’re specifically designed for people who have very different goals at the gym.

Forget bulking up or losing those last 10 pounds. Many seniors exercise to improve their mobility and maintain their quality of life.

“I think the motivation to exercise might be a bit different with older people,” says Marusaik. “They’re sometimes acting on advice from a doctor, or just trying to maintain their bodies.

“Younger people seem to have attitudes of self-improvement or building up to achieve a new goal.”

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Daniel Reid

By Daniel Reid

Whether it’s scientific breakthroughs, political manoeuvres or loaded technical jargon, Daniel Reid loves to untangle complex ideas to make them accessible to everyone. He is currently an editor at @newsrooms and is a former web editor at @CTVNews and homepage editor at @TheLoopCA. You can argue with him on Twitter at @ahatrack.

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