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The reliability of GPS devices for collecting exercise data

May 12, 2016

Philip ShambrookPhilip Shambrook graduated from EIT with a Bachelor of Recreation and Sport degree at the March 2014 Graduation ceremony where he delivered the valedictory address. In April 2016 he will graduate with a Master of Health Science degree from EIT. He had previously completed Bachelor of Aeromechanical Systems Engineering and Master of Business of Administration degrees during 21 years of service in the British Armed Forces. He arrived in New Zealand in 1997 fresh from three years cycling the world on a tandem with his wife, eventually moving to Hawke’s Bay to begin studying at EIT.

Philip’s Master of Health Science research investigated the use of portable fitness devices to acquire objective information about physical activity levels and tested the reliability of this data when uploaded to the internet. He had observed that epidemiological studies investigating the relationship between people’s health and physical activity often used self-reports and questionnaires which were not always reliable. The principle aim of Philip’s study was to investigate the reliability of data flow from a range of Global Positioning System (GPS) devices from which information could be accessible to third parties via the internet.

The 15 volunteers in Philip’s study each undertook four running trials of two laps around a 2350 metre outdoor track. Because of the timing of Philip’s master’s study, these trials took place during winter and frequently in weather Philip described as “most foul” in his appreciative acknowledgements to his participants. The GPS devices they wore on their wrists recorded distance, time and elevation change.

When comparing these downloaded data points, Philip found no significant difference between the recordings for distance and time, but significant differences amongst the recordings for both elevation loss and elevation gain. He was able to conclude that publicly available data from GPS-enabled portable fitness devices reliably report distance and time recordings but not elevation changes.

Philip is now in Australia doing his PhD at La Trobe University where he received a La Trobe University Postgraduate Research Scholarship. His PhD research takes a slightly different turn, being principally about the efficacy and effectiveness of intermittent exercise on cardio-metabolic health.

With the worldwide growth of obesity, diabetes and other diseases related to compromised cardio-metabolic health being closely associated with low levels of exercise, Philip’s research aims to identify a format that might encourage more people to increase their exercise levels.  Philip believes that low-intensity, low-volume intervals of exercise that could be more readily incorporated into an individual’s day to day life might provide a suitable incentive.

Philip Shambrook

e P.Shambrook@latrobe.edu.au