The other day I went to the gym after work. It wasn’t a particularly bad day at work. And the afternoon was beautiful on my drive over to the gym. The sun was out, there was a few fluffy clouds scattered across the crystal blue skies, the light breeze was warm and felt good against my face. I guess it must have been about 5 o’clock when I arrived at the parking lot. I was surprised to find quite a few cars in the gym parking lot, but it was not super-crowded. There were parking spaces, but they were kind of far away. So…I spent the next 5 minutes looking for a closer parking space, until I realized the stupidity of it all.
I had come to the gym to burn off calories, and I was wasting time waiting for a closer parking space to open up, so…..I didn’t have to walk so far from the parking lot to the gym entrance. What the heck? I literally stopped in my car, in the middle of the parking lot and thought about how ridiculously stupid that was. It made no sense.
And because of all this, I started thinking about all the things we have and do nowadays that saves us from making those extra steps, things we didn’t have back when I was a kid, back when the media wasn’t constantly barraging us with news stories about the epidemic of obesity. When there wasn’t a gym on every corner. Back when I was a kid, there were no gyms, no Ellipticals, no Stairmasters, no yoga pants.
Back when I was a kid, we walked everywhere. We walked to the stores, we walked back from the stores, carrying our groceries. People were out on the streets walking to and from work. Kids rode their bikes to their friends’ houses. They walked to school, they walked to their piano lessons and their ballet lessons. We walked to the movie theater. When we wanted to go to the stores, we either walked to the train, and took the train into downtown Chicago, or we rode our bikes from Hyde Park, along the lake shore down to Michigan Avenue – and then we rode back with our purchases.
When me and my best friend wanted ice cream, we had to walk at least a mile and a half to the closet Baskin and Robbins to get a cup of ice cream – a scoop of Mint Chocolate Chip and a scoop of Jamoca. And then we would walk slowly back, eating our ice cream. Our little neighborhood, surrounding the University of Chicago, didn’t allow any franchises, so we always had to walk to the next neighborhood over. I remember when the first McDonalds opened up, in the next neighborhood over, we all trekked over there to sample the fries. Back then, the fries didn’t taste like chemicals, they were so good.
We couldn’t text our friends to see where they were, or Facetime them, of Skype them. We had to get on our bikes and go looking for them, if we couldn’t reach them by phone. We wrote letters, put a stamp on them, and then walked to the post-office or mailbox to send them off.
When I was a kid, people raked and moved their own lawns, planted their own flowers and cleaned their own houses. Only the super-rich people had pools, and pool guys to clean their swimming pools. Only the super-rich had a landscaping service come out and keep their gardens tidy. I don’t remember any of my friends’ families having housekeepers, except for the people over in Kenwood, who lived in the big old mansions.
And you know what – we didn’t have an obesity epidemic. It was very rare that we ever saw a morbidly obese person, or really any overweight people, and when we did, we couldn’t help but stare.
There wasn’t aisles and aisles of reduced-fat, low carbohydrate foods in the grocery stores. There weren’t any diet sodas, well except for Tab. We ate butter, and real sugar, and eggs, and meat, and we never worried about it too much. We also ate a great deal of fresh fruits and vegetables, and everyone I knew, sat down to a home-cooked meal each night with their family.
After pondering all of this, I began thinking about how many calories were expended in all the things we used to do, such as gardening, mowing the lawn, walking and riding bikes, cleaning pools, cleaning the house and that kind of stuff. So, I asked my trusty side kick Google (oh yeah – and we used to go the library to do research) and here are some of the answers I found.
|Activity||Calories Burned per Hour|
|Sitting at computer||102|
|Doing light household chores||95|
|Standing in line||100|
|Playing with your dog||115|
|Playing with kids (not rigorous)||120|
|Lifting weights (light)||224|
|Golfing (riding in cart)||260|
|Mowing the lawn||410|
|Golfing (walking w/ bag)||410|
|Walking (4.5 mph)||372|
|Cross country skiing||500|
|Biking (fast pace)||530|
|Running (7.5 mph)||940|
|Bicycling (> 20 mph)||1220|
Source: July 2004 issue of the Harvard Heart Letter