One thing that concerns me today is how much people move these days. Or should I say, how little people move.
I love the stories of friends I know who have broken loose from sedentary lifestyles and found not only healthy living, but a sense of empowerment and a bigger world available to them.
The father of three who dropped 50 pounds and got his hypertension in check.
The woman, beaten down by a lot of what life has thrown at her, doing her first 5K. Which turned into a 10K. A half marathon. And then the full 26.2.
A woman who tried on her kid’s discarded hiking boots, hiked to the top of Pikes Peak and developed a habit that, 60 pounds later, has turned her into a lean, mean hiking machine.
But I know for each of these stories, there are scores of others in which people do not succeed in getting healthy. Surrounding them are forces that conspire to keep them inactive, eating junk and sleeping erratically. Awaiting them are obesity, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and premature degradation of their musculo-skeletal system.
Call it death by underuse.
There are a lot of factors in this. Admittedly, some people choose to slowly kill themselves via lifestyle choices. But in other instances, things are done to us that work us into an oddly stressful state of physical inactivity.
One of those things: Our cities.
More than 80 percent of the U.S. population lives in urban areas. Different historical and socio-economic factors have determined how these communities are designed and grow. What is mostly true, especially in the Midwest and West, is that our cities are compartmentalized in ways that inhibit the free flow of people moving in things other than our cars. Let’s take a tour so you can see what I mean.
Here is where we work.
Here is where we shop.
Here is where we entertain ourselves.
And this is where we live.
And this is how we get to all these places, which are often disconnected from each other, sometimes at distances of 10, 20, or even 50 miles or more.
For a lot of us, that means sitting in a car for anywhere from 10 to 90 minutes a day to get to and from work; 8 to 12 hours a day sitting at work; 10 to 30 minutes each way to go shopping; 10 to 60 minutes going somewhere to sit and eat, then jump back in the car to sit and watch a two-hour show; and when it’s all done and over with, plop down at home in front of the TV and spend the last waking moments of our day sitting.
By the way, sitting a lot is not good for you.
A lot of us, in an attempt to escape these confines, buy a house on land in the country, with the thought of being able to relax in peace and quiet, in nature, and away from the stresses of battling city congestion. The reality is that it usually just increases our drive times, because a home in the exburbs or out in the country is just another compartment of a life filled with disconnected compartments in which navigating the to-and-from requires more time on your butt, driving.
This is the reality of modern, zoned development. Want an ice cream cone? Get in your car and drive. Need to pick up some groceries? Get a bite to eat? Meet someone for a brew or two? Drive time is involved. And on Sundays, a lot of us pile the family into the car (big SUV?) and drive a good ways to church, sometimes to buildings that resemble malls, complete with sprawling parking lots to handle all those wheeled metal boxes toting the faithful to their respective houses of worship.
Notice I haven’t even mentioned things like going to the gym for a lift or heading somewhere to go run run or ride your bike. Most times, you’ve got to drive to those places, too, because neighborhood fitness centers have been replaced by big gyms in strip malls and shopping districts, many neighborhoods aren’t pedestrian-friendly and most parks aren’t designed for much else outside of playgrounds or your kids’ baseball/softball/soccer games in mind.
Now picture instead a community that grows more organically, a place where you work, shop and play is all mixed together, with most everything within walking distance. Imagine being able to walk out your door, stroll a few blocks and be at the doorstep of your favorite restaurant or pub. Your gym is three doors down. Your office is 10 minutes on foot, or 5 minutes by bike. Your community is a place with quick access to walkable, runnable, bike-able paths where you can get a good sweat. Green spaces are designed for everyone in mind, regardless of age.
If you lived in that kind of a community, you’d not only save a ton of money on gas, but you’d move your body a lot more. Our bodies are designed to move, not sit. Chances are, you’d also be a lot more connected to your community, as being in its midst on foot tends to feel a lot different than being inside your car – itself a tiny compartment of life, complete with its own climate, entertainment and communications.
Our communities are already built, so it’s not like we’re going to tear them down and rebuild them into some pedestrian utopia. But I have to wonder what, if any, steps community leaders will be taking in the future to help their cities and towns evolve into something healthier for their people.
We need to move more. We need to feel more physical connection to the places where we live, something beyond being the place where we mow a yard once a week and go to sleep at night. I can’t blame people for wanting to live in affordable homes, places with good schools and communities that are safe, peaceful and quiet. I just wish more of them were places that weren’t making us sicker.
It’s something to think about. Maybe if you agree, you can demand better. And if not, maybe it’s a good time to re-examine where we live, and find somewhere that might help you live longer – and live better.
On Twitter @RMHigh7088