Smartwatches and Exercise for Those with Disabilities

Cropped image of man in wheelchair with smartwatch on

Health and lifestyle

Smartwatches and exercise for those with disabilities have transformed the world of exercise, getting a generation of active tech users moving. How does this wearable technology apply to the lives of wheelchair users? Here is some interesting feedback from our brand ambassador Joel Dembe.

At first, I was sceptical

“Another expensive, overhyped gadget, right? I was certain it would distract me. Or I wouldn’t use the ‘cutting edge’ features cleverly advertised by world-renowned marketing teams. More importantly, as some who uses a wheelchair, I wasn’t sure those features would even work for me.

I was wrong

“After two weeks of non-stop use, I can say without hesitation it’s a must-buy for all abilities. Like many others, COVID-19 disrupted my entire fitness regimen. Gyms were closed. Recreational wheelchair sports were off-limits. And for some reason, I wasn’t motivated to use my hand-cycle or push my chair outdoors as much as I thought.” Essentially, I stopped moving. I lost my edge. However, once I got my hands (or should I say wrist?) on a fitness tracker (mine, more specifically, the Apple Watch) and activated “wheelchair mode”, – everything changed. Here’s my two-week journey:

Women in wheelchair using smartwatch

Day one:

I’m getting hourly reminders to move my wheelchair. “Time to roll!” displays the watch. I push my chair for a few minutes. I hear a ‘chime’ sound. It’s a virtual reward for completing the task. Another notification shows that I’m 260 active calories from obtaining my daily goal. This is interesting.

Day three:

I arrive home after a 5-minute outdoor push. The watch tells me to wash my hands. That’s a good reminder! But I do it for precise twenty seconds until the automatic countdown timer chimes ‘complete’. I got another reward.

Day six:

I open the watch “workout” app and select “outdoor push, running pace”. I listen to a workout playlist synchronised from the watch to my AirPods. I wheel around my neighbourhood. The watch tells me I’ve burned off 20 calories.

I keep going. I push harder. Fifty calories, then 75. After 30 minutes, an animated ring closes on the watch. I still have to close two more rings to reach my daily activity goal. Now, I’m motivated to get that reward.

Day eight:

Another workout. Another reward. A text message pops up on the watch. I ask Siri (the watch’s virtual assistant) to relay the message. It’s my wife. I respond only using my voice. I haven’t stopped wheeling, yet my message to her is completely accurate. No fumbling around with a phone while pushing anymore. It’s seamless. So, I keep going. But now, I feel like the wheelchair version of Dick Tracy.

Man sat in Motion Composites Wheelchair

Day nine:

I’m stressed. My smartwatch already knows this. It notifies me that my resting heart rate is high and tells me to breathe. It begins by displaying an animated breathing exercise. I inhale slowly, then exhale as the animation shrinks. A minute later. I feel better. I hear a ‘chime’. A reward for breathing. Then, I used the Blood Oxygen app on the watch for the first time. I’m at 98%. What about the remaining 2%, I ask myself? My heart races again. I panic. Am I okay? I ask Siri. Siri says I’m fine. I should do that breathing exercise again, I tell myself. I hear a chime. I’m once again rewarded.

Day eleven:

It’s getting late. The watch vibrates, displaying “time for bed!” I keep the watch on while sleeping. It’s monitoring me through the night. It’s now morning. Instead of the noisy alarm, I receive a gentle ‘tap’ on my wrist, waking me up at 6:30 am. That was pleasant. The watch tells me I slept just under seven-hour – three of which were in a state of deep sleep. Apple Watch says I need more sleep.

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Apex Rigid Carbon Fiber Wheelchair

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Day thirteen:

My wife and I have finished converting our garage into a gym. My hand-cycle is now mounted on an indoor trainer. With my smartwatch, I’ve created an accessible version of the Peloton. I’m now tracking multiple workouts. I’m synced into the Nike Training Club. I’m now participating in online fitness classes. I’m completing a challenge against other Apple Watch users – some of whom also use a wheelchair. I’m beyond motivated.

Day fourteen:

Look at a summary of the data my fitness tracker has collected. It tracks everything from forced expiratory volume to the total movement distance of my wheelchair. I’m using my phone less. I’m relying on Siri more. This has me hooked. I’m obsessed with progress. Obsessed with the daily and stretch rewards. Obsessed with closing those activity rings. Obsessed with competing against my friends. I want to type much, much more. But then I hear a chime.

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