Multidimensional Physical Activity

Physical activity is medicine, but are you doing enough?

Despite the multitude of associated health benefits, physical activity isn’t being used effectively in either prevention or treatment and the potential impact of this ‘wonder drug’ remains widely unfulfilled. In order to make physical activity an effective medication, just like with drugs, it must be the right type at the right dose – in short, it needs to be personalised. In order to make it personalised we need to overcome a widespread issue pertaining to our knowledge regarding physical activity.

On the whole, physical activity isn’t understood and neither are its benefits. Too often physical activity and exercise are used as interchangeable terms; people do not understand that any movement – no matter how small – is physical activity. In addition to this, a one-size-fits-all single approach to physical activity is often promoted, which tends to heavily centre around structured exercise and sport.

A prime example of this can be demonstrated by looking at the physical activity guidelines. Physical activity guidelines aim to provide a clear message about the right dose of activity focusing on a single message. The 2019 Physical Activity Guidelines for UK Adults recommend a minimum of 150 moderate-intensity or 75 vigorous-intensity minutes (or an equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity minutes) per week for substantial health benefit (Department of Health, 2019).

With ambiguous terminology that’s difficult to apply to your own lifestyle, it’s understandable that people find it hard to judge their physical activity status.

Wearable technology has created an opportunity for individual’s to accurately monitor their free-living physical activity, providing personalised information about both the intensity and duration of activity, but the availability of data 24/7 has highlighted a significant flaw in the guidelines – the focus on a single measure of physical activity to determine one’s level of physical activity.

Physical activity is multidimensional

In truth, physical activity is a far more heterogeneous behaviour, with multiple dimensions known to have clear biological and health benefits (Thompson and Batterham, 2013; Metcalfe et al., 2012; Department of Health, 2011a; Department of Health, 2011b; Healy et al., 2011; Tremblay et al., 2010; Lee et al. 2010; Helmerhurst et al., 2009; Burgomaster et al., 2008; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2008; Healy et al., 2008; Rakobowchuk et al., 2008; Institute of Medicine, 2005; Brooks et al., 2004; Gibala, 2007; World Health Organisation [WHO], 2000).

This multidimensional view of physical activity is vital in allowing us to create an accurate assessment of an individual’s activity in the context of their health, and in enabling the development of bespoke strategies for behaviour change. Focusing on one dimension alone, like minutes of activity or the number of steps taken, creates a danger of developing a false picture of activity which may be detrimental to personal health outcomes.

The research, published in the Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews (click here for article), a journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, from our partners at the University of Bath shows robust evidence that personalised multidimensional physical activity profiling is crucial to providing an accurate assessment of an individual’s physical activity and for providing precise tailored advice. It is also integral to influencing successful behaviour change through greater understanding and offering activity choices tailored to an individual’s needs.

It is this in-depth understanding of physical activity, which is core to KiActiv®, and that which can help every individual – from commissioners, to clinicians, to patients themselves – to overcome the current knowledge barrier impacting on the effectiveness of physical activity as a medicine.

It is clear then that physical activity must now be taken seriously, for both its the role it can play as a therapy and as a risk factor for multiple chronic diseases. Realising this will enable us to move closer to the goal of sustainable healthcare. Technological innovation has allowed us to understand far more about physical activity than previously possible, and our suite of online tools, patented technology, and bespoke wearable device can now be used to help improve understanding and make physical activity an effective and accessible digital medicine for all.