Physical Activity: Reinventing the Wheel

By Jonathan Dugas

Physical inactivity remains a global health issue, and while some may argue that many factors of the global technology boom contribute to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, others say that this same boom will do more than ever before to increase physical activity levels worldwide.

Scientists have long-used wearable sensors to measure individuals in “free living” situations, but now more than ever wearable activity monitors such as Fitbits are affordable, allowing more individuals to buy this technology and take full advantage of rapid improvements in the translation of the raw data from these devices into meaningful information. This includes ever-improving social elements where users can form communities with others they know (and don’t know), to some extent leveraging the social norming that has proven effective in modifying other behaviors like energy consumption.

Advances in mobile and wireless technology have also helped bicycle sharing become a global fixture. As of 2013, at least 225 cities in 48 countries had active bike sharing programs which vary in size from just a handful of bikes around city centers to encompassing the entire city, as does the Velib system in Paris, making it easier for more residents to forgo daily motorized transportation.

These developments are extremely important because as a population we are unlikely to suddenly dedicate 30 (or more) continuous minutes to organized exercise within already busy lives. Instead, we are much more likely to engage in incidental bouts of activity throughout the day such as taking the stairs or choosing to cycle 1-2 miles at a time. Wearable devices and their trimmings, together with growing “smart” bicycling infrastructure, are two things that can help promote more physical activity in urban settings worldwide. I hope many of you can leverage these factors as of today, World Health Day 2014, and choose to be active.

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