Visualizing physical activity through 3D printing to get children moving more and sitting less

Technology has boomed massively over the past decade with major advances in digital fabrication through 3D printing. These 3D printing advancements have allowed a new type of experimental and exciting research to emerge. Here at Swansea University, we have put together a multidisciplinary research team involving Sport, Exercise and Health Scientists, Computer Scientists and Arts and Humanities academics. As a team we are collectively working on a novel concept involving 3D printing, to help aid children’s understanding and interpretations of how important physical activity is for staying healthy. The research is titled 3D Printing Children’s Physical Activity.

Physical activity refers to any movement that causes a greater energy cost to the body than simply existing! However, as a society we are now spending most of our time in the horizontal reclined position, snuggling up to our favourite TV shows. It has been recently reported that children in the UK spend an average of 8 hours per week playing sedentary video games and this is associated with increased risk of childhood obesity. More than one third of children don’t achieve the recommended levels of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) everyday, with approximately 30% of children being overweight or obese. The really scary thing is that childhood obesity tracks into adolescence and adulthood, with figures suggesting that 80% of obese adolescents become obese adults. These figures are alarming and highlight the importance of getting children moving more and sitting less.

The big question is how do we get children motivated and interested in being more active, and dragging them away from such loved engagement with technology? Perhaps the answer is simple: we can’t take children away from technology. So why not use it to get them more active instead? Rewards systems, such as goal setting, physical activity profiles, real-time feedback and social support networks are some of the best ways to help people maintain their motivation to be more physically active. For children, this visual stimulation may take the form of phone apps such as Pokémon Go, Motion Maze, Zombies, Run! and ibtiz kids, which are proving to provide better results in helping children to stay more physically active and interested. But what if we could create something that’s meaningful, visual and tangible for children all in one?


Using the modern and stylish Ultimaker, we have been able to explore 3D printing in a way that has never been done before. So exactly what is this method of 3D printing not seen before? Well, we are now able to design and print personalised models of weekly physical activity. Cool right? The question now is whether these 3D models can help children understand how active they are, but also whether this might motivate them to be more active.


Through this process of 3D modeling activity data we can provide children with personalized physical activity feedback, which is aesthetically attractive and easy to understand. The 3D models will be an expression of how much physical activity they achieved per day over a week period. For example, the more the child moves, the more the shape or size of the personalized model changes in appearance. Bringing physical activity data back to reality, something that the children can touch, collect and compare over time we think is important. We chose to use the Ultimaker because we think it goes hand in hand with the concept of making something complicated like physical activity data or 3D printing simple and relatable for everyone. The Ultimaker demonstrates this with its luminous LEDs and user-friendly menu system that the children can navigate through, additionally adding to the learning process.



3D printed models of physical activity have great potential to educate and enthuse children about developing, and maintaining appropriate levels of physical activity with reduced time being inactive. This could have a positive impact on the future health problems of the UK, with improved social outcomes, reduced costs to the country and enhanced quality of life across the age span. It is becoming increasingly important that we combine technologies such as the Ultimaker 3D printer with novel research to explore ways of creating a more sustainable, healthy and educated society.

            Part of the research team from left to right: Sam Crossley, Dr Iwan Griffiths, Dr Melitta McNarry, Dr Kelly MackintoshJess McCreery and Charlie Winn.



We would like to thank Sam Crossley and supervisors Dr. Melitta McNarry, Dr. Kelly Mackintosh and Dr. Parisa Eslambolchilar for sharing this great project with us, to find out more on 3D Physical Activity follow them on the social media tags below and check out their website at https://3dprintingphysicalactivity.wordpress.com/

Twitter – @3DPhysicalActiv
Instagram – @3DPhysicalActivity
Youtube – 3D Printing Physical Activity