Getting intimate with PAM


  • Health
  • Sunday, 19 Jan 2003

A pilot project in Kelantan will assess whether a computer programme tentatively named the Physical Activity Monitor (PAM) can be a fitness monitor as well as fitness programmer to help individuals lead a healthier lifestyle, writes MENG YEW CHOONG

THE spirit may be willing, but often, the flesh is too weak. This could well describe the state of affairs in the fitness scene in Malaysia. Many Malaysians spend tens of thousands of ringgit buying fitness equipment in the hope that such investments will spur them on to fitness nirvana. Unfortunately, most eventually get stashed in the storeroom to gather dust after a few months of neglect.  

In a sense, this state of affairs reflects a general intention to exercise on the part of most Malaysians, but what is lacking is the willpower to sustain the interest in exercising.  

Believing that what Malaysians need are coaches or mentors to guide them and to encourage them in their quest for a healthy lifestyle, Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Sport Science Unit has come up with a computer programme that promises to change one’s approach towards exercise.  

According to Prof Rabindarjeet Singh, head of the sports science unit, the idea of integrating fitness and information technology (IT) was sparked off by the Prime Minister’s exhortation for Malaysians to be IT-literate.  

“That gave us the idea of mixing IT with fitness, which takes artificial intelligence one step further,’’ said Prof Rabindarjeet, who also credited his colleagues from the computer science unit for designing the software that can be operated in both the Windows platform as well as the Palm OS.  

Targeted primarily at those who lead sedentary lives, the programme will tailor a fitness regimen based on a person’s physical and medical as well as family history (as in susceptibility to certain hereditary diseases). The subject is still free to choose any particular activity or sport that he or she likes, and the software will recommend the intensity and duration.  

“For example, the programme will forbid certain exercises if it thinks that the intensity is beyond a person’s capability,’’ said Rabindarjeet when explaining the kind of interaction that takes place between the computer and the end-user of the programme tentatively named the Physical Activity Monitor (PAM). 

PAM is currently at the trial stage, and those who live in Kelantan, especially around Kota Baru, are invited to participate in the experiment. The reason for choosing Kota Baru is because of its proximity to the USM Health Campus, where the sports science unit is based.  

Prof Rabindarjeet Singh supervising the programme.

According to Prof Rabindarjeet, the chief aim of the project to see whether a computer can be a fitness monitor as well as fitness programmer. “We want to see whether PAM can change peoples’ lifestyle.’’ 

To that end, the trial would basically measure fitness level and health status differences between three groups of subjects over a three-month period. The groups will consist of those who interact with PAM with a desktop computer, those who only use a Palm-based personal digital assistant (PDA), and the last group are those who do not interact with PAM at all (control group).  

Volunteers for PAM will have to have Internet access, and they will be given a password to access the PAM website, where they can then key in how much “work” they have done after each workout session. In the event that PAM finds that a subject has not exercised “enough”, it would ask the subject to make up the shortfall within the same week. 

“On the other hand, if the subject has fulfilled his or her quota, then PAM will guide the subject towards the next level,’’ said Rebecca Wong, who is conducting all the tests in the PAM project as part of her Master’s degree project under the supervision of Prof Rabindarjeet’s. 

A volunteer’s physical history will be measured before they embark on the programme, and measured again after three months, which is the minimum period needed to see any significant effects of exercising.  

Among the parameters that will be measured, at no cost to the volunteer, are blood glucose level readings, blood cholesterol level readings (fasting test), blood pressure, body fat percentage, and cardiovascular fitness (as measured by the shuttle run test as well as the computerised treadmill test). 

According to Prof Rabindarjeet, initial feedback from PAM users have indicated that the programme had led to some changes in their lifestyle. “Some have reported better body tone, though not necessarily reduced weight, while others are still exercising as they discover the benefits of exercise. And when computers are involved, it could also turn out that (the more IT-savvy) children can spur their parents to keep up with their workouts. 

“There has been a very enthusiastic response from other Asian countries after they heard the presentation of the project brief. Once PAM is fully proven in trials and published (hopefully by the end of next year), then it will be made available nationwide for the public’s use,’’ added Prof Rabindarjeet.  

At the moment, the project is in dire need of volunteers who are IT-literate (around 80-100 volunteers), especially those who live in Kota Baru. “If the unit cannot find enough subjects from Kelantan, it will most likely move on to Penang for more.  

Those who are interested to be part of this interesting “exercise” can contact Rebecca Wong at 09-766-3000 ext 4670/4653, or e-mail rebecca@siswa.kck.usm.my  

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