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Tempt more people to move more trough the use of smart technology and innovation. Which also creates new jobs and markets. That was the mission that the Vitality Living Lab project started out with about three years ago. A mission where that need is becoming increasingly more obvious, says René Wijlens, cluster manager from the Sport & Technology Cluster and one of the initiators of the project. “It is a gradual process which goes from ‘sport is fun’, to ultimately more and more exercise as a prerequisite for a healthy and vital society.”

As part of the project, 14 partners are working together on innovations to encourage people to exercise more in e.g. public spaces and at work. Approximately forty cases originated from requests by municipalities and SME companies.

Growing inactivity

“Our goal is mainly about connecting and mobilizing the parties involved in sports and technology, as innovation drivers, to start working together on the various demands from the market.” Wijlens believes that this has worked out well so far. He considers that the case-based approach has created more cohesion in the innovation ecosystem for sport and vitality. This is necessary, according to Wijlens, in order to respond to the major challenge of making the transition from healthcare to care for health.

The need for more exercise along with the negative consequences of not exercising enough has on people’s health have been known for a quite a while. Wijlens: “People who exercise and do more sport are not only physically and mentally fitter, they also have a lower risk of depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer. More exercise also reduces the risk of obesity, elevated cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. These effects were already known before corona. Corona further underscores the need for more exercise.” The group of people with inactive lifestyles is on the rise, Wijlens argues. “In addition, we have started to work at home more often as a result of the corona measures. All in all, we have been sitting down on average an extra hour per day. People who sit for more than eight hours a day are 74 percent more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease.”

Interactive walking route

Smart innovations should tempt people to exercise more. Not just by doing sports, but also by alternating sitting with exercise while working. Or by encouraging people to go outside to exercise. This creates innovation and business opportunities, says Wijlens. For example, project partner Embedded Fitness developed together with the design agency GBO and the Dutch municipalities of Helmond, Breda and Venray an innovative, interactive, outdoor walking and exercise route; interactive posts that can communicate with each other remotely. With an accompanying app, someone checks in, selects a game and the posts respond by changing color or making a sound. You can, for example, do a puzzle or follow a certain route. Director Carla Scholten expects to place the first posts in Breda this coming summer.

More examples abound. Embedded Fitness, for example, supplied the sensors for luminous tiles that children must touch underwater or, for instance, can use to make a puzzle. This is how Roald van der Vliet, director of ISLT, wants to make swimming lessons more fun.

The urge to move

Van der Vliet works within the VVL project on the ‘swimming lessons of the future’. His mission is to get children more excited about exercising with the help of a more enjoyable and fun swimming lesson. “Children have an incredible urge to move. If you put toddlers in a gym, they immediately start running, jumping, scrambling around. When they get older, we teach them to wait until the gym teacher is there. You have to nurture that urge to move.” In addition, about 180 thousand children take swimming lessons every year. “Show them that it’s about more than just learning how to swim so you don’t drown, but that it’s also a lot of fun to move around in the water. Then it becomes more likely that a child will choose to do swimming sports after completing their swimming diplomas.

In addition to the luminous tiles, the lab has also developed a hoop that jumps from red to green as children swim through it. The lab is also working on video feedback during swimming lessons so children can immediately see what they are doing. And a movement tracker should get kids moving more during swimming class. A kind of circuit in which children climb over objects, slide off them, swim underwater for a bit, swim a few strokes. Children are testing the innovations at the swimming school, which the ISLT took over from PSV last summer.

Less pressure on healthcare

“You see all kinds of initiatives emerging from our Sport & Technology (S&T) Cluster aimed at a fit and vital society,” says Wijlens. “Not just within the Vitality Living Lab project. Companies, governments and institutes all have a vested interest in better health care. They want to come together to give shape to that vested interest. Projects are born out of that. We’re going to strengthen those partnerships even more as we move forward.”

With one year to go as the Vitality Living Lab project, partners from the S&T Cluster are working to establish an Innovation Hub for Sport & Vitality. “The hub brings parties together on a structural basis to contribute to a fit and vital society with smart technology. Through innovation at work, in the outdoors and in sports. So that more people will exercise, reducing the pressure on healthcare and creating new jobs.”

In this regard, Wijlens is also looking beyond the borders of the Netherlands and would also like to contribute within Europe to the ‘transition from healthcare to taking good care of your own health.’ “We have an excellent reputation in Europe in the field of innovation for sports and vitality. We would like to share this with other EU parties so that we can realize a greater impact on an EU scale.”

Vitality Living Lab is co-sponsored by Stimulus. The total investment for this project amounts to almost €4.9 million, half of which is funded by the European regional innovation program OP-Zuid. The other half is funded by the partners themselves.