Marike Hendriks, the woman who wants to get everyone moving

Marike, you are the woman behind the Pharaon study’s popular motion sensors. Many study participants choose to use them. You’re glad to hear that, aren’t you?

Yes, we are very happy with that! A long time ago I did research with a predecessor of this MOX motion sensor. Although the sensor was not that small and handy at the time and only the physiotherapist could tell you what was on the meter, people found it very interesting to hear how much they had moved. It’s just nice to know if you’re on the right track if you want to do something about your health. The sensor has now been greatly improved and reduced in size and can, for example, be linked to the simple MISS activity app. You can also easily hook the motion sensor to your pocket, making it easy to take with you. And with the MISS activity app you can read the motion sensor yourself at any time, whenever you want, on your own phone, handy, right!

You work for the Limburg company Maastricht Instruments and for Maastricht University. Who are you apart from that?

I am 45 years old, married and mother of two lovely children in primary school. I live in one of the most beautiful places in the Netherlands: close to Sint Pietersberg in Maastricht. I studied Health Sciences because I didn’t want to learn how to make sick people better, but rather wanted to learn how people can stay healthy. After my studies I did a lot of research  for example into fall prevention in older people and lifestyle interventions. I also like to teach students at the university and college. Since 2020 I have been working as a project manager at Maastricht Instruments. In my current job I work with researchers on various projects, including the University of Twente on this Pharaon project.

Why is exercise so important?

I always say: “exercise is always good”, and for me, a day not moved is a day wasted. As a child you are born with a large amount of healthy exercise jitters. Unfortunately, we soon learn to sit still, which is sometimes useful. Imagine: a Christmas dinner or train carriage full of active toddlers. But to stay healthy it is very important to move. In English you say: ‘use it or lose it’. That is also true for exercise. When you don’t move for a while, your muscles weaken, your bones become more brittle, and your heart is also a muscle. So if you move less, you can do less after a while. I really experienced that myself when I was seriously ill for a while and could move less. I lost a lot of muscle and fitness. It took me a very long time to build up my fitness and muscle strength little by little and get back to my exercise level from before.

What does your company hope to learn from the Pharaon studies?

We have already learned a lot from participants, the readability of the app has been improved on the advice of participants. The user-friendliness and the trouser clip have also been adjusted. All user feedback is welcome. Of course we are also looking forward to the results of the studies!

Does it even matter if you move more at a later age? It’s about what your lifestyle was like when you were younger, right?

No, as long as you live, your lifestyle is important and you are never too old to learn and the same applies to exercise. Here too I say ‘use it or lose it’, so if you don’t move now, it will slowly become less and less. While you can keep your body moving, by just continuing to do things yourself: an errand on the bike, or a walk. Even if it’s just a few visits to the birdhouse in the garden, or to the mailbox for a Christmas card. Even a working day sitting behind the computer is actually not good, so it is good to get up in between and, for example, get a cup of coffee or take a short walk. And if you start moving a little bit more, for example by setting a little more steps per day, you will see that you can slowly handle more, even when you are older! My grandmother turned 94 and never played sports like we do today, but she always exercised a lot for example by getting groceries on foot, and continuing to do all the chores in the house and garden. She was always moving. That kept her fit until the last day!

The studies we do in the Netherlands are about healthy and happy ageing. What do you do to take good care of yourself?

Moving and being outside always do me good. I prefer to go to the mountains, but of course that is not possible every day. I go to work by bike every day and in between I walk outside for some exercise. In the weekend I make time for a longer bike ride for example on a mountain bike, or a walk from home or through the Heuvelland.

Finally, Christmas is just around the corner. Are you going on vacation? What are your plans for the holidays?

For me, vacation means a lot of time with family, relatives and friends. We go to the Christmas market and skating rink with the kids. The Christmas tree is up and I still hope for a white Christmas (holiday) to be able to play in the snow, sledding and building snowmen. But in any case, we will enjoy the time to play outside with the children, to cycle together and to go for walks. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a healthy New Year!