Physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for death globally and has reached the status of a global pandemic — a definition that is usually associated with infectious diseases like influenza.

Even those of us who are physically active every day can be quite sedentary. Working out every day, yet spending the rest of the day sitting in a chair — this has become the norm in the modern world.

We know that even moderate increases in physical activity are associated with reduced risks of physical illness such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. We also know that exercise improves our mental health and academic performance.

Read more: How to stop sitting yourself to death

Apart from considerable risk of disease and death, physical inactivity is responsible for a substantial global economic burden, with annual conservative costs to health-care systems worldwide exceeding US$53.8 billion.

Despite this incriminating evidence against physical inactivity and despite investments in active-living interventions, there has been little change in global physical inactivity levels.

As an active-living researcher who uses technology to understand physical inactivity in populations and to influence policy, this state of passivity makes me extremely impatient. It is time to fight fire with fire, by repurposing the same devices that make us more inactive — smartphones.

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