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Activity trackers help people learn new digital skills while improving fitness

Digital Communities Wales is working with an increasing number of organisations in the health and social care sectors, as the links between digital inclusion and work in these areas becomes ever more relevant.

This can include people using technology to improve their health in hospitals or care homes, in some cases they could be supported by digital volunteers; organisations improving access to health information online; and people using digital technology at home, to improve their own health and wellbeing.

In this case study, we’ll look at a few examples of organisations that Digital Communities Wales has worked with, where activity trackers, including FitBits, have been used to help people learn more digital skills while improving their health.

Aneurin Leisure Trust, Newydd Housing and Melin Homes are three organisations that we’ve worked with on such initiatives.

Aneurin Leisure Trust (ALT) secured a loan of six FitBits to support a group of women who wanted to improve their digital literacy and their fitness. ALT designed a project called ‘Your Body, Your Life’ for the group, which was also given six weeks free membership, with access to a personal trainer in one of the Trust’s leisure centres. The purpose of the FitBits was to give the women involved a goal to achieve through the use of technology and help when they did not have access to the trainer.

The FitBits were linked to an individual’s device. If any of the individuals did not own an appropriate device, Adult Community Learning loaned them an iPad for the duration of the project. This particular project has had multiple impacts; the women improved their knowledge of how digital technology can be integrated into their lives. The FitBits were used as motivational tools, as the participants were keen to see how their performances compared and improved as the weeks progressed.

The women involved have said how their wellbeing has improved since the start of the project and how they are enjoying their new friendships, swapping health tips, finding new websites and having group chats on social media.

HAPI (Healthy, Aspiring, Prosperous and Inclusive) is a non-clinical health and wellbeing project which works with tenants of Newydd Housing Association, and the wider community in parts of Pontypridd, to make positive health choices.

Digital Communities Wales provided the HAPI project with a FitBit toolkit and loaned them five FitBits. The aim of the project was to engage with five participants around health, wellbeing and digital skills.

The group met every two weeks in the HAPI hub for mutual support. Levels of activity among participants increased during the project, and they developed new digital skills through linking the FitBits with their smartphones. This project enabled residents to track and compare one another’s activity levels, providing an opportunity for them to come together in a social capacity and build friendship groups.

The third example in this case study, social landlord Melin Homes, took a slightly different approach. Melin’s ‘Zest’ group was set up five years ago to support the health and wellbeing of staff. It applied to Digital Communities Wales for a loan of eight FitBits, which were used by members of its Direct Workforce team (e.g. plumbers, electricians, painters) and Sheltered Scheme Managers. The Direct Workforce team, because of the nature of its jobs, have not had to use technology within their roles until fairly recently. The loaned FitBits enabled team members to use and experience technology in a fun and informal way and encouraged them to use it to improve their general health and wellbeing.

All eight participants wore the FitBits for a six-week period and feedback was excellent, with some saying they didn’t realise how good the devices were and how more aware it made them of their activity levels. All participants increased their activity levels as a result of the project, some because they wanted to make sure they hit the 10,000 steps a day and others because they wanted to beat the previous day’s step count!