HEALTH AND FITNESS: The toxic activity environment | Features

Last week I pitched the idea that we live in a “toxic environment” that offers easy access to high-calorie, unhealthy, cheap food and encourages sedentary lifestyles. The focus has been on the toxic food environment, so now is the time to explore our toxic activity environment, which makes it easy to be inactive and can discourage activity.

The environment affects our physical activity on several levels. The built environment relates to the design of our communities, including roads, sidewalks, public transportation availability, where homes and businesses are located, and even the design of buildings. If you live in a mixed-use area that has plenty of well-maintained sidewalks connecting your home to schools, parks, churches, restaurants, shops, and businesses, the built environment is likely to support more activity. In larger cities, an effective public transport network can increase your activity.

However, many people live in areas where there are no sidewalks or, if they do exist, the distances between destinations are too great for comfortable walking. Or they live in a neighborhood separated by distance or geography (perhaps a busy road) from other places they visit. Even where there are sidewalks, they can be difficult to use due to poor maintenance, car traffic, or dangerous road crossings. Even where signals are in place for pedestrians, there may not be enough time to safely cross the street, creating a serious limitation for those with mobility issues. In many cases, the built environment can actually discourage – even prevent – ​​physical activity.

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The built environment also includes interior spaces. If the building you work in has clean, safe, and accessible stairs, you’re more likely to use the stairs than the elevator. The design of offices and workplaces can also influence activity. If your office has a desk and chair, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll be seated for most of the day. Even the slight increase in activity that comes from using a standing desk or an alternative to a traditional chair, like sitting on an exercise ball, can add up over the course of the day. Some people even have treadmills so they can walk while they work!

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At work and at home, technology and labor-saving devices make it easy to be inactive. At work, you can communicate with co-workers by phone or email instead of going to their office to chat. Whole groups of people can hold meetings via video, each sitting at their own desk, even though everyone works in the same building. At home, you can change TV channels, connect with friends and family, and even order dinner from the comfort of your couch. Leaf blowers and riding lawn mowers reduce the physical exertion required for yard work, and robot vacuums let you sit and watch your floors being cleaned.

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The good news is that you can change the way you interact with the toxic activity environment to increase your activity level. You may have to drive to a shop or restaurant if it’s too far to walk, but you can park further away to take a few extra steps. You can get up from your desk to talk to a colleague instead of calling or emailing. At home, you can get off the couch during commercials or take short “screen time” breaks to get moving. And it’s perfectly fine to leave the leaf blower in the garage and use a rake to clear the leaves in your yard.

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