On any regular day you would find me catching up with friends for a bike ride and a coffee in the morning before spending the day in the library at the Deakin Campus and going for a swim to unwind after work. However, during a year of working from home and social distancing from friends and colleagues, I found myself needing some extra support to stay on track with working towards my PhD and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I have never before found it difficult to be active and stay connected with people but the implementation of a lockdown in Melbourne and social distancing restrictions really challenged that.
Luckily, I came up with a solution – part of my research is about how we can support people’s health behaviours using technologies. I’m working with people who have experienced heart failure to develop a smart home-based intervention to support them in self-management of their condition. This includes things like self-weighing, sticking to a healthy diet and taking prescribed medications. As a consequence the knowledge I have gained through the first half of my PhD, I decided to turn to technology for some support for myself!
Here’s how I went about it…
Firstly, I programmed my Google Home device to wake me up at 6.30am with one of my favourite songs, followed by a reminder of the tasks I had set myself for the day – normally things like; meetings with my supervisors, to write part of a paper, run a couple of errands. To remind me to move more from my desk, whilst I was working, my smartwatch would prompt me to take a stretching break from my desk every hour – something much required to alleviate my sore neck! Whilst I was sat away the watch would also track my resting heart rate, which had recently slightly increased likely due to a period of inactivity.
Once I had finished up with work for the day, I would jump on my bike which I had hooked up to an indoor trainer – some days I rode gently through the world of Zwift (a virtual reality cycling game), other days I raced against people worldwide and even found myself chatting with friends in the UK whilst they were riding their bikes too. Slowly my world began to feel a little more normal, people felt closer again.
Over the subsequent months, I observed that my resting heart rate was dropping as I got fitter and more relaxed (also thanks to an online meditation class). I began to reconnect with people, set myself virtual cycling challenges and got back on track with tasks for my PhD research. Smart technology had supported me to change my behaviour, resulting in better outcomes for both my mental and physical health and my work.
How did I do it?
As I have already mentioned, I am working with people who have experienced heart failure to help them better self-manage their condition using technology and behaviour change. The first part of my research is to work with those people, and their carers, to really understand the condition and the things they would like more support with. I am using interviews and an analysis of wearable camera images which show the day-to-day life of my interviewees. This is the same step I took when turning to technology to support me during the lockdown, I had to first understand the behaviours I wanted to change – like being more active and catching up with friends.
Where do IoT come in?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is used to refer to the devices we use which are connected to the internet – they collect and share data. These range from tiny devices like smart pills (which can track whether people are taking their medication) to large devices like autonomous farming equipment (like a tractor which can farm land without a driver). There are now more connected devices than there are people in the world and they are being used increasingly to automate our homes and monitor chronic conditions, like chronic heart conditions. They help us to collect data in real-time, and with smart analysis and a feedback mechanism this can help us understand the way people behave, and how they can be helped.
Next I will use behavioural theories to understand how we can influence these behaviours using various devices and functions. Here’s a worked example using my ‘lockdown’ experience.
Using Susan Michie’s COM-B model, which lies at the centre of the Behaviour Change Wheel, a toolkit for designing behaviour change interventions, we can identify the components of the ‘intervention’ that lead to behaviour change (see table). The model represents three factors that need to be present for any behaviour to occur; capability, opportunity and motivation.
|Google Home alarm with music||Motivation|
|Watch prompts stretch break||Capability|
|Heart rate tracking||Capability|
|Indoor cycling on Zwift (virtual reality game)||Opportunity|
For example, by engaging in indoor cycling in a virtual world I began to see the activity as part of my new routine (physical opportunity), felt like I belonged to a community doing the same thing (social opportunity) and improved my skills and knowledge around the exercise (capability). After a couple of weeks I experienced the benefits of regular exercise which made cycling even more fun (motivation).
Drawing upon my own experience from the last year of lockdown and social distancing, and more importantly the valuable experiences of people who have experienced heart failures, I will be developing effective intervention strategies using various smart technologies and behaviour change theories to help them self-manage their conditions and potentially also to improve their lives.
Stay tuned for more on this in subsequent blog posts.
ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hub for Digital Enhanced Living PhD scholarship recipient
NB: The author reserves the right to showcase/publish this blog piece elsewhere and/or in a different medium.
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Rebecca Nourse is a second year PhD student, affiliated with the Institute of Physical Activity and Nutrition and the ARC Research Hub for Digital Enhanced Living at Deakin University and The University of Copenhagen. She is an international student, originally from the UK and has a background in public health policy and behaviour change interventions. Her PhD research is looking at how ‘smart-home’ technologies can be used to support people who have heart failure to self-manage their condition.