Tāmaki Innovation Campus

An exercise in technology for cardiac benefit

Jonathan Rawstorn is developing an alternative method for delivering supervised exercise-based cardiac rehabilitiation programmes.
Jonathan Rawstorn is developing an alternative method for delivering supervised exercise-based cardiac rehabilitiation programmes.

Applying technology to measure exercise performance in new and different ways is exercising Jonathan Rawstorn’s mind, as part of addressing coronary heart disease.

Jonathan completed his undergraduate study at the School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences in Dunedin, where he became fascinated by the effect of exercise on the body.

Moving to Auckland to undertake a BSc (Hons) in Sport and Exercise Science, he got his first taste of hands-on research, fuelling his interest in using technology to transform traditional approaches to measuring exercise performance.

Now part way through his PhD on mobile health exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation intervention, supervised by Ralph Maddison from the National Institute of Health Innovation and Nick Gant from the Department of Exercise Sciences, Jonathan is well down the track in developing an alternative method for delivering supervised exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation programmes.

“Using smartphones, mobile broadband wireless physiological sensors, and mobile and web-based software we developed ourselves, we’re able to remotely monitor cardiac patients’ exercise in real-time from almost any location, and provide them with live exercise coaching based on their performance. Our remote exercise monitoring platform helps to overcome the most common barriers that stop patients from participating in cardiac rehabilitation, and could help many more to experience the health and survival benefits of regular supervised exercise training.”

He’s particularly proud of receiving a research funding grant from the Auckland Medical Research Foundation to support his final experiment; comparing remotely monitored exercise against existing programmes in cardiac rehabilitation clinics. Recognition from peers in the health research community was a boost during this competitive process, he believes.

Jonathan is no techno-geek when it comes to software development, but he appreciates technology’s problem solving potential and has been lucky to collaborate with colleagues at the University’s Department of Computer Science to make his ideas a fully functioning reality.

“I don’t think technology is (or should be) the solution to all problems, but I enjoy the challenge of using technology to create effective, appealing, evidence-based interventions that make it easier for people to include exercise as a regular part of their lifestyle.

“I’ve enjoyed many aspects of my project, often for different reasons. The initial work I did to design the remote exercise monitoring platform was a great opportunity to indulge my creative side. Testing and validating the platform was very satisfying, as it was the first time I could really see things starting to come together, and see its potential to help people. I think, most of all, I enjoy patients' feedback about our remote monitoring platform. It’s satisfying to see how much of a difference it makes in their lives, and to share their delight when they see improvement over the course of an exercise programme.”

He acknowledges Tāmaki Campus for the freedom to develop his own ideas and solutions, with supportive supervisors who are quick to provide advice or assistance when needed. He feels his PhD has allowed him to develop skills with more independence than during honours research and provides a basis for a career in academia.

Post-thesis, he’d like to continue to develop the platform. “What we’ve got now is very close to a product that could be implemented in the real world but at this stage I refer to it as research-ready, not market-ready. There are some changes I’d like to make to close that gap, and some additional features that would allow us to deliver extra evidence-based components of cardiac rehabilitation. I’d also like to implement the programme outside of the research environment and think about adapting it to suit the needs of other health conditions.”