This Is Plastics: Plastics in Wearable Technologies Advance Health Equity and Improve Athlete Performance


Plastics in Wearable Technologies Advance Health Equity and Improve Athlete Performance

Plastics are essential design components of wearable technologies, offering an affordable and durable new way to track health data and fitness metrics.


All kinds of wearable, health-focused devices—including smartwatches, medical devices or basic step counters—are worn by roughly 30 percent of Americans every single day. This number is only expected to grow as people become more interested in their health and fitness—and as new innovative technologies make attaining their health-related information more accessible. Plastics ensure that these wearable technology devices are durable, flexible, comfortable and water-resistant, allowing users to monitor their health and fitness in any environment. 

Plastics make health tracking more accessible

Plastics are helping to make technology previously available exclusively to those in healthcare settings more accessible through wearable devices. For example, chest-strap heart rate monitors are widely considered to be as accurate as electrocardiograms (EKGs), which were only made accessible in hospitals or doctor’s offices. Heart rate monitors often use straps made from plastics, such as elastic or nylon, to provide comfort while carefully monitoring heart rate. These devices are affordable and can detect heart and other health conditions before an emergency occurs, advancing health equity by enabling more people to personally take control of their health.

One great example of this kind of technological breakthrough has been exhibited by start-up fitness company Whoop. They are revolutionizing the wearable tech industry by making comprehensive health trackers for both apparel and accessories. Whoop devices monitor blood oxygen, skin temperature, heart rate and sleep patterns to promote a healthy lifestyle for users and can potentially prevent future health problems by alerting users to seek medical help if necessary. The Whoop 4.0 is a small fitness tracker that can be used with clothing or a watch band to provide health and fitness tracking while maintaining comfort. Whoop uses Poly Lycra, a stretchy plastic textile, in its specially designed apparel to hold the small fitness tracker in place without sacrificing comfort. In addition, Whoop uses lightweight and durable plastic clips to keep the tracker secure on a watch band. As wearable technology continues to become more accessible, experts estimate that, globally, individuals will likely save up to $200 billion in healthcare costs as people increasingly monitor health conditions at home.

Plastics make wearable technology durable for exercise and adventure

In addition to health monitoring, plastics are essential in wearable technologies that monitor fitness for many different levels of skilled athletes. Garmin, a technology company that specializes in fitness tracking devices, manufactures cutting-edge gear that utilizes plastics because of their durability against the elements. Designed for hiking, trail-running and extreme sports, the Enduro 2 watch is encased in a fiber-reinforced polymer, while the strap is designed with lightweight nylon and elastic. Plastics ensure that the gadget is waterproof and durable enough to withstand water, sweat and high altitudes, making it a smart choice for athletes and adventurers.

Even if a gadget isn’t manufactured completely with plastics, plastic accessories are essential to wearable technology to help devices withstand daily wear and tear. More than 100 million people across the globe use an Apple Watch to track health and fitness. The gadget itself is made from aluminum and glass, fragile materials that can easily crack or break, but plastics help cover and protect watches while also allowing for personalization with different colors and styles. Durable polycarbonate plastic cases prevent the watch from getting scratched or dented, prolonging its lifespan at an affordable price point. Smartwatches from Apple, Garmin and Fitbit use silicone watch bands to provide a comfortable, flexible and lightweight way to monitor fitness without interfering with activity. Plastic bands and cases are also easy to remove and clean, making them a hygienic choice for fitness trackers that would otherwise trap dirt and debris from sweat and the outdoors.

Plastics are enabling new innovations in the wearable technology industry

As the wearable technology industry continues to grow, scientists are finding new ways to use plastics to create innovative wearable health and fitness trackers. At Stanford University, researchers have been experimenting with stretchy “skin-like” wearable monitors for health and fitness use. Using a flexible plastic polymer and LED light to monitor vital signs, these bandage-like electronics have the potential to revolutionize the medical industry.

In a move towards sustainability for fitness trackers, scientists at the University of Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute discovered a way to make a wearable device by transforming discarded paper wipes and plastic cups into wearable materials. The device is self-powered through materials that become electrically charged through friction when they come into contact with each other, saving energy by not requiring electricity. Scientists are hoping to include these new technologies in future smart watches to provide an energy-saving and sustainable option for health and fitness tracking. These one-of-a-kind discoveries are using plastics in new ways to revolutionize health and fitness.

Plastics are providing the health and fitness industries with new ways to track activity, monitor heart rate and chart exercise through wearable technology. From affordable health tracking devices to revolutionary fitness monitors, plastics ensure that wearable technology is durable yet comfortable enough for daily wear, increasing access to lifesaving data and creating a healthier future for everyone.

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