Tech-Driven Lifestyle Change: Can AI Help Overcome Barriers to Exercise?

Getting people to change their behavior is hard. Just ask anyone trying to lose weight, stop smoking, or begin an exercise routine. If the desire to change is there, why is it so difficult? We spoke with Jon Ackland, Chief Science Officer at Pear Health Labs to explain the psychology of behavior change and what gets in the way of progress. He’ll also explain the role of technology and AI in helping motivate people to make a lifestyle change or continue their fitness journey.

Could you share a bit about your background?

“I come from an Applied Exercise Science background which means I’m always chasing new methods to exercise smarter. I’m interested in how to put in less effort and time for more results. 

“I wrote several books on this many years ago when the application of scientific techniques to improve exercise was still very new. I’m a big believer in the democratization of information – I want everyone to achieve their goals more easily using smart exercise techniques, not just elite athletes.” 

What do you think is the biggest barrier to changing behavior? 

“We each have our individual preferences, attitudes, motivations, and values. We also have our unique barriers to overcome. The psychology of behavior change does however give us some global categories that are useful.” 

What are those barriers, and how do we overcome them? 

“The first category is importance. Deciding to change any behavior involves overcoming hurdles related to how important that behavior is to you. With physical activity, the most common barriers are not having the time to exercise, not having the money to afford it, and finding it too difficult. 

“If we can identify these barriers and reduce or remove them, our motivation tends to increase. When we see the behavior as valuable, it becomes easier to move forward.

“The second category of barriers is confidence. As a coach, I’ve seen countless times where a person wants to make a change or strive for a goal but their lack of confidence stops them before they even start. 

“In this situation, my advice is to just start and see what happens. I’ve seen this many times, and I can tell you that if you start, you’ll probably surprise yourself. You have more ability and potential than you think.

“The third category is the reward, getting enough value from the journey to justify continuing. Seeing progress or improvement, getting compliments from friends, and getting things of value back (for example, being able to fit in a new outfit) all contribute to making the journey worthwhile.”

How does technology help facilitate behavior changes and lifestyle changes?

“We’re at a point where everyone has an incredible array of sensors right in their pocket with their smartphone or smartwatch. These sensors are the same as the cutting-edge exercise devices top athletes used in the 1990s to send data to their coaches. 

“These tools offer an unprecedented opportunity for anyone anywhere to receive best-practice exercise support. Combining this technology with behavior change techniques creates incredible opportunities. It can help more people start make lifestyle changes like exercising, get fitter, get stronger, and lose weight, which is incredibly exciting. Artificial intelligence and tech are creating this perfect storm of personal care that is a potential revolution.”

How does PEAR’s technology specifically, motivate users to exercise?  

“Our patented SmartCoach feature embedded in the Aaptiv app functions as a personal trainer creating hyper-personalized plans unique to each user. By first assessing an individual’s starting capacity and experience level, the algorithms develop precise training plans based on their goals across activities such as walking, running, or strength training.

“The app provides metrics for certain workouts, showcasing fitness changes over time, and linking actions to results. Seeing that progress is incredibly motivating. It reinforces how their exercise is directly contributing to the changes they’re seeing.” 

How is this technology different from other health apps?

“Unlike many fitness apps, PEAR is at the forefront of AI integration. Our algorithms allow us to build plans and workouts that dynamically progress as the users do. This ensures they’re working productively – neither too hard nor too easy, striking the right balance between effort and recovery. Importantly, users can customize their training schedules, including the option to add rest days.

“Our goal is to continue using AI to integrate the prescription of exercise with personal coaching. This integration ensures that the recommendations we make are the next best steps for the user as they continue their exercise journey.”

Jon has written several books on sports and training for beginners and elite athletes.

PEAR Training Intelligence Powers Aaptiv SmartCoach

PEAR Training Intelligence enables Aaptiv’s AI-powered personal trainer, SmartCoach. Aaptiv is uniquely designed to adapt to the user’s progress and create realistic expectations that help boost productivity and improve well-being. By collecting data and feedback on users’ fitness levels, workout preferences, and progress, Aaptiv can constantly adapt their plan to meet personalized goals. Aaptiv’s SmartCoach is just one example of how PEAR Training Intelligence is helping individuals achieve their fitness goals with greater precision and efficiency.


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