If you're one of the 19 million Americans who owns a Fitbit, you already have a niggling voice in the back of your head (or on your wrist) that tells you you should move around more. If you're among the nearly 10 million Fitbit owners who threw his gadget in a drawer after a week or two, you may want to give in to the guilt and strap the thing back on.
There's nothing special about a Fitbit, and they're easy to "fool" (ask my friend whose device recorded thousands of steps when he had to help sign the family Christmas cards), but there is definitely something special about walking.
In his funny, fascinating, and informative book 100 Million Years of Food, author Stephen Le notes that "the cause of obesity is unlikely to be lack of exercise, because people in industrialized societies today use about the same amount of energy as people in hunter-gatherer societies" (loc 2700)! How can that be, we wonder, when they move around all day, and we sit in our cubicle, hardly stirring except to type and move snacks from the wrapper to our mouths?
Nevertheless, Le argues, the measure of energy used in a day as a multiple of a person's metabolic rate (in units known as a PALs) shows very similar PALs for humans in both foraging and industrialized groups.
What other culprits could there be, then, for our obvious size difference? One possibility is the steadiness and consistency of our caloric intake. We don't experience seasons of feast and famine. The jury's still out on that explanation.
More likely the fat factor might be how much time we spend sitting and doing nothing. That is, those lethal "periods of inactivity":
...Contemporary hunter-gatherers cover around 8.8. miles (men) or 5.9 miles (women) on foot each day. By contrast, the average American walks about 2.5 miles each day. The things that are done instead of walking--watching TV, sitting at a desk, and driving--are all associated with obesity, disease, and early death.
In particular, keep a special eye out for that binge TV-watching! Le reports that
each two-hour increment in watching TV translates into a 23% increase in the risk of obesity, a 14% increase in the risk of diabetes, a 15% increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and a 13% increased risk of dying.
This confirms what I've long suspected: watching the Mariners day after day (and watching them lose when everything is on the line) really will kill me!
What can we do? The good news is, walking is easy. Easy and cheap and fits in anywhere. Just "one hour per day of brisk walking is associated with a decrease in the likelihood of obesity by 24% and diabetes by 34%." Anyone want to make a walking resolution with me? If we naturally walk 2.5 miles per day, just milling about the house or office, that means we just need to try to add back in another 6.3 miles (men) or 3.4 miles (women). Here are ten easy possibilities to up our mileage:
- Park as far away as your time affords. If your errand allows you to walk, go for it, instead of getting out the car. If you only have a minute to spare, take the farthest parking spot and walk in. (Since we tend to circle, looking for close spots, you might actually come out ahead on this one.)
- Don't meet a friend for coffee--meet for a walk. Or at least walk together to coffee!
- If you must watch your favorite program, do it on a tablet or phone, while you walk on the treadmill or someplace where you won't fall in an open manhole.
- Better yet, listen to music or an audio book or the Mariners losing as you walk around your neighborhood.
- Offer to walk your neighbors' dogs once a week. Let your neighbors get fat on the couch while you reap the benefits!
- Never never never take an elevator. And walk up the escalator. And along a moving sidewalk.
- Return the grocery cart inside the store.
- Undo all your organizational time-savers, like having that basket for crap you're going to bring upstairs eventually. Take each item up when it's in your hand.
- Take out the garbage and recycle bins for an elderly neighbor. Then take them back in after they're empty.
- Stop ordering everything online. Go browse a store so you at least walk up and down the aisles. Chances are you may not even get it after all. And if they don't have what you want, you can always walk back home and order it online.
- BONUS tip! Do a complete lap around the Bellevue Farmers Market before you start buying. And, of course, you already chose that most-distant parking space...
Le had other great info in his book, which I might get to in another post, but in the meantime, put down your device and take a couple laps around the house!