The back of the pack

The other day I read a New York Times article that falls under the heading of “shocking but not surprising.” Or maybe “Depressing, but duh!”

The Pedometer Test: Americans Take Fewer Steps” discussed how the results of a study tracking the average daily steps taken by a group of U.S. adults compared with the results of similar studies done in a few other countries. The U.S. was at the bottom of the pack, with 5,117 daily steps. Australia led with 9,695 steps, followed by Switzerland (9,650) and Japan (7,168).

Of course, all of these countries are blown out of the water by a separate study of adults in Amish farming communities. Amish men took about 18,000 steps a day; Amish women 14,000 steps.

For context, consider that 2,000 steps roughly equals a mile, and that 10,000 steps a day is considered the minimum for good health. (That total can come from a combination of formal exercise activity and incidential daily activity.)

If you were sitting (no…walking!) next to me and I could bend your ear, I could spout at great length about the reasons why North Americans are so darn sedentary. Most of us live in communities that are not set up well for going from place to place without a car. We’ve become so car-dependent that, even when given the opportunity, many people won’t walk for transportation. We’ve adopted too many totally sedentary pastimes, like television, video games and Web browsing. Kids don’t walk to school like they used to and physical education programs have been slashed so we have whole generations coming up who are used to being less active.

And then there’s the snowball effect: As we become less active in general, we become less fit. As we become less fit, we find it harder to be active in general. And so on, and so on.

My international travel experience is not vast, but I continue to be amazed at how much more pedestrian-friendly Buenos Aires was when we spent two weeks there a few years ago. We took one taxi ride while we were there (not counting travel to and from the airport, which was outside the city). We rented an apartment in a residential neighborhood, and all of our needs (grocery, laundry, cafes, etc.) were within easy walking distances. Much better urban design. There were always people out walking, no matter what the hour.

Let me just wrap up by saying three things:

  1. Our bodies are DESIGNED to move!
  2. Use it or lose it!
  3. Everyone can be more active. Use where you are at today as a starting point, then become a tiny bit more active every day. You CAN do it!

Photo: © Landd09 | Dreamstime.com