Credit: Centre for Better Ageing

Experts developing wearable technology to support women to remain active as they age

New wearable technology will be developed as part of a project to help older women stay active and keep playing sport.

The project is called Maximising Inclusiveness in Sports through Female-centric Innovation and Technology (MISFIT).

The University of Exeter and sportswear manufacturer KYMIRA Sport will develop clothing such as leggings that track movements during exercise. Project partner CPI will develop footwear insoles to monitor forces. 

Researchers from VOICE, National Innovation Centre for Ageing, at the University of Newcastle will run user groups to understand user needs and requirements.

Using "smart textiles" designed by KYMIRA, sensors embedded in clothing, combined with footwear insoles developed by CPI, will provide data on injury risk to support older women (aged over 50) to continue participating in exercise and sports. 

In collaboration with Ida Sports, a company that specialises in sports footwear for females, the new technology will be applied to the development of footwear tailored to the requirements of active older women for multisport participation.

Information on factors such as joint stiffness, the impact of different shoes and the effects of treatments can be passed to health professionals to help them give the best advice.

The two-year project is supported by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) funding as part of the Healthy Ageing Challenge.

The new technology will be co-created with the target population and validated through laboratory tests and motion-capture systems, and feedback from participants about the requirements and comfort of the wearable technology will be obtained across the different phases of the project. 

"Project MISFIT is about empowering women and giving them the confidence to keep exercising as they age," said Dr Sharon Dixon, of the University of Exeter.

"There is a lot of evidence of low physical activity levels among older women.

"Multiple factors play a role in this, but issues such as knee pain can be a major barrier.

"Despite the well-documented benefits of regular participation in physical activity, including improved physical and mental health, women are not well-supported in continuing in sport and exercise as they age.

"In particular, a lack of understanding of the activity behaviours and the absence of gender- and age- specific footwear, hamper inclusiveness.

"This project will deliver a wearable activity monitoring system customised to the needs of older women, contributing to sustaining physical activity in a population that has been underserved by research in this area."

It aims to provide four key benefits:

1)      Enable affordable self-care/self-monitoring for women to engage safely in sports, exercise and sustained physical activity, while limiting pain, discomfort or injury.

2)      Inform the design of a new range of multi-activity footwear that support the specific foot shapes and biomechanical function of older women.

3)      Offer data-driven activity supervision for physiotherapists, doctors, community fitness professionals and similar stakeholders.

4)      Enable large-scale data gathering and analysis to better understand women’s biomechanics, injury mechanisms and risks. This will include developing novel injury-risk algorithms specific to older women to enable self-management of sport and exercise.

Dr Dixon said: "Overall, MISFIT should encourage women to participate in sports and remain active as they age without fear of pain or injuries, providing the known benefits of strenuous and sustained physical activity on health, happiness and mental wellbeing."

Date: 1 July 2022