Author Archives: Jacob Gross

How Fitness Trackers and Wearables are Maximizing the Benefits of Exercise

In my last blog post, I talked about the benefits of exercise and some new research being conducted in that area. In this post, I will look at personal fitness trackers and wearables. It is easier than ever for any individual to improve their own well-being and health with all these technological tools. Fitness trackers are significant because they can motivate people to exercise, which can be life changing for many people. This technology can put exercise in a whole new light, changing the perception of exercise from just a necessity to something that people actually enjoy.

Fitness trackers and wearables such as a Fitbit and Apple Watch and apps like Nike+ Run Club and RunKeeper can be the solution to America’s inactivity problem. They make it easier to measure various aspects of your health and fitness and can be an incentive to exercise more often. Fitness trackers make it easier to measure a one’s miles, heart rate, quality of sleep, etc. Sensors built into wearable devices and mobile devices can track movement, speed, acceleration and change in elevation.

These wearables come with many benefits. They promote being active. For example, the Apple Watch tells you to stand up if you have been sitting for too long. Also these fitness trackers can gamify exercise. They make exercise into a game experience or social activity, where you compete and share with friends.  Exercise can become something to look forward to and be excited about. It also can become a way of life and not something that is dreaded.


Apps like Nike+ Run, Club and RunKeeper provide tangible evidence of your exercise routine, keeping track of how many workouts and miles you have completed, and allowing you to track your improvement over time. They also provide detailed training plans to help you reach your goal of running a certain distance, whether it is a 5K or a marathon. Since individuals are wearing these devices at all times, there is an enormous amount of useful data, both for individuals and researchers.

On the iPhone and through the Apple Watch there is a Health app, which aggregates health and fitness information from multiple sources. Patients are already beginning to share their health data with doctors and insurance companies to demonstrate how healthy they are, save money, and earn rewards. ResearchKit makes it easier to collect reliable data for medical research on a large scale, by leveraging billions of Apple devices. It is being used to conduct research on Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, breast cancer, and cardiovascular disease.


The Halo Sport in action.

Another really fascinating wearable is the Halo Sport, a product by Halo Neuroscience. It looks like Beats headphones, with electrodes that stimulate the motor cortex in the brain (known as neuropriming) to allow for quicker acquisition of skills and building muscle strength. The motor cortex sends stronger signals to the muscles, which activates more muscle fibers and allows athletes to get more from each rep. It is currently being used by athletes while training on Major League Baseball teams, as well as the US Olympic Ski and Snowboarding teams, to try and develop players faster, and will soon be available to the public. The Department of Defense even uses it to train special operations forces. It is also being implemented to help those who have suffered from a stroke to recover faster. There are hopes of eventually creating products that stimulate other areas of brain besides the motor cortex, such as those related to memory and thinking.

Fitness trackers have become valuable devices for both fitness and health research. With increased popularity, they should continue to make valuable contributions to the lives of millions of people and make the world a more healthy and active place.

Picture Source:  

Exercise is the Key to a Healthy Life

For thousands of years, doctors have promoted diet and exercise as the keys to a healthy life. However, in the early 1900s, doctors began to emphasize treating diseases rather than preventing them, due to the availability of drugs and surgery, diminishing the importance of exercise in the process. While most Americans are aware of the benefits of exercise, only 20 percent engage in the recommended amount of physical activity, which is 150 minutes per week of aerobics and at least two days of strength training. Amazingly, over 80 millions Americans and over half of baby boomers, who range in age from 52 through 70, are not active at all. Aerobic activity like running, biking,Marathon, black silhouettes of runners on the sunset or walking increases your heart rate, breathing and flow of oxygen. Strength training, which helps increase muscle and bone mass, can include weight lifting, using your own body as a weight with push-ups and sit-ups, and yoga.  

Many doctors consider exercise to be one of the most effective medicines or forms of therapy, including for individuals with genetic diseases. While it has always been known to provide many benefits, research has begun to provide insight into the positive impact it has on areas such as the brain. Exercise increases the flow of blood to the brain, leading to growth of new blood vessels and neurons, while also preventing the degeneration of brain cells.  It also improves mood (reduces anxiety and depression), energy, focus, sleep, memory, and learning.  Aerobic exercise can increase the size of regions of the brain that are responsible for memory, such as the hippocampus. Physical activity reduces the aging of cells and allows one to live a longer life. Exercise is considered the best method to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and stroke, which are some of the leading causes of death. Studies of mice show that exercise can reduce the effects of aging among those with a condition that caused them to age faster, appearing the same as healthy mice. As we discussed in class, the question is whether outcomes like these are generalizable to others, including humans.


Getting into an exercise routine requires a large amount of motivation and commitment. It is easier to avoid doing it now, but it has many long-term benefits. It lays the groundwork for living a healthy and active lifestyle, which can carry over into the decisions one makes about eating and drinking. I have found that participating in organized sports like soccer and track help make exercise a key part of my daily life. It is important for individuals to realize that they can get all the health benefits of exercise without any equipment, and in fact, a number of everyday activities like using the stairs instead of an elevator, gardening or mowing the lawn, and doing work around the house like cleaning and cooking are all forms of exercise. Additionally, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) has been found to provide the same health benefits in a shorter period of time, such as 10 minutes, as a longer workout lasting 50 minutes, which can be beneficial to people who do not feel they have the time for extended exercise sessions.

Most research on exercise has focused on improving the performance of athletes, but that is beginning to change. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will soon be conducting a study of nearly 3,000 sedentary individuals, collecting samples of blood, muscle, fat, the brain and lungs, from human and animal participants, to examine the benefits of exercise on the body. The hope is that in the future, doctors will be able to prescribe exercise instead of medicine, with each individual given a personalized workout plan to help them maximize their well-being.

  • Oaklander, Mandy. “The New Science of Exercise.” TIME. Sept. 2016. Web.  <>
  • Running Picture:
  • Brain Picture:


Why So Many Home Runs? Examining MLB’s Homer Spike


Calculated using data from Fangraphs. AB is at-bats and HR is home runs.

As a big Major League Baseball (MLB) fan, I have noticed that home runs seem to be occurring with more regularity than the past this season, as exemplified by 43 year old Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon hitting his first career homer this May. The data matches my observations: during the current season, home runs are being hit more often than any other time in the history of the game, with the fewest at-bats between each home run, as shown in the chart to the right. Additionally balls are coming off of the bat faster than the past, as indicated by a greater exit velocity. I was curious about what could be driving this change and wanted to take a further look.

Evidence seems to be pointing towards a change in the ball being the primary reason for the huge increase in home runs, but there are likely a number of other factors involved. After the 2014 season, when scoring was very low and pitching dominated, the league reportedly met with the MLB Player’s Association about possible changes to increase offense, with one proposal involving a change to the ball. Last July, there began to be a dramatic increase in home runs and scoring in the major leagues. Several players have noted that the balls used in the major leagues this year seem to be wound tighter than the past, which could make it go further. It would make sense that the league would be interested in promoting more offense, since it would increase the popularity of the game. It would be strange, however, if they changed the ball without making it known to the public.

The balls used in the major leagues are manufactured by Rawlings in Costa Rica. It is possible that a slight change in the manufacturing process, which is all done by hand (with 200 workers recently laid off), could lead to increases in the coefficient of restitution (COR), a fancy physics term describing how bouncy the ball is, which consequently can produce major increases in the distance the ball travels and the speed it comes off the bat. MLB permits a wide range of acceptable restitution coefficients, which means that it is possible for balls to fall within the acceptable range, but be bouncier, and therefore, travel nearly 50 feet further.

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 14: Yoenis Cespedes #52 of the New York Mets hits a third-inning home run against the Miami Marlins at Citi Field on September 14, 2015 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Yoenis Céspedes of the New York Mets. Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images.

FiveThirtyEight conducted an experiment that attempted to determine whether the ball has changed in recent seasons. They had official MLB balls from 2014 and late 2015 thrown from a cannon at a steel plate, in order to measure their COR or bounciness. The tests were inconclusive and did not not find a significant difference in the COR of balls from 2014 compared to those from late last season. No matter how many tests are run in a lab, there is no way to replicate game situations and ensure that the balls are exactly the same as those used in games.

Comparing the major league and minor leagues can help provide some insight into what role the ball has played in driving up the home run rate. The balls used in the major leagues and minor leagues are produced thousands of miles apart, in Costa Rica and China, respectively. Typically, the home run rates for both leagues were correlated, but recently, while homers have increased in the majors, they have decreased in the minors (Triple-A), as shown in the chart below. When analyzing matchups that took place between the same pitchers and hitters, at both the minor league (Triple-A) and major league level since last July, the the ball traveled further in MLB. 3.3 percent of balls hit were homers in Triple-A, compared to 4.3 percent in MLB. This could be a sign that the ball changed in MLB. There is precedent for this. When modifications were made to the ball in the past, there were significant changes in home run rates.


Steroids are not a logical explanation for the dramatic increase in home runs because it is unlikely that a large number of batters began taking some performance-enhancing drug at the same time that allowed them to hit more home runs, without getting caught. Plus, the league has cracked down on steroids in recent years, with harsher penalties that could result in a lifetime ban from the game.

Other theories on why home runs have increased include that a different approach is being taken by both pitchers and batters. Pitcher may be encouraged to pitch to contact to get quicker outs, while batters are being more aggressive, as shown by the decrease in walks and increase in strikeouts.  Hitters have also gotten better at hitting high velocity pitches and turning them into home runs. Research has shown that how hard a ball is thrown does not correlate with how fast it is hit off the bat, meaning that the batter is more responsible than the pitcher for the exit velocity and distance the ball travels. Therefore, the influx of young power hitters in the game could play a role in the rise in homers. Additionally, teams may be valuing power more than the past. With pitching dominating, teams may have figured that if there are less opportunities to score, they should make sure they capitalize on the chances they are given.

As we discussed in class, there are certain phenomena where it is very difficult to explain the cause, and this is a great example of that. There are no clear-cut answers for why home runs are being hit more often, but there are number of possible explanations involving variables discussed above, such as the ball and players themselves, or it could potentially be just a fluke.



Looking Forward to Exploring Science in a New Light

Hello, my name is Jake Gross and I am a freshman from Glen Rock, New Jersey, a small town 25 minutes outside of New York City. I am currently in the Division of Undergraduate Studies, but leaning towards studying something business related here at Penn State. I was drawn to this course after doing some research and finding an interesting TED Talk  by the professor, Andrew Read. I also found out that he is from New Zealand, just like my uncle Peter Jackson (not the producer of Lord of the Rings, but rather a former Olympic table tennis player).Manned_mission_to_Mars_(artist's_concept)

In high school, I excelled in subjects like History, English, and Psychology. While I found science interesting, it did not click with me as much as other subjects, so it is not something I would consider majoring in. My perception of science is based on how the material was presented in high school. I am more interested in the practical aspects of science, rather than memorizing facts, as was the case with classes like biology. The most intriguing aspect of science is that while progress is constantly made, there are so many questions yet to be answered. My grandfather was a rocket scientist who built the guidance and navigation system for Apollo that put man on the moon. I am now excited about the possibility of man traveling to and potentially inhabiting Mars.  As a big baseball fan, I have been fascinated by the recent rise of sports science, whether it is to help prevent injuries with wearables or evaluate performance using player and ball tracking technology. Statcast technology captures interesting measures such as the spin rate of a pitch (in revolutions per minute), as well as the exit velocity and launch angle of a ball off of the bat.

I believe that this course will offer me an opportunity to see science in a new light and explore how the subject is relevant to our everyday lives. I am excited about the class’s emphasis on critical thinking. I am someone who enjoys going beyond the work that is required for a course, trying to truly learn and understand the material and apply it to the real world. I look forward to using the class blog to share my thoughts and experiences with others, as well as learn from and engage with fellow classmates. I think it will be a great tool to supplement the classroom experience. I am looking forward to a great semester!

Here’s the link to the picture: