Whole Lot of Love

Published on: February 11th, 2015

In terms of walking, the life of the modern American isn’t that different from the Egyptian Empress Cleopatra, who was carried everywhere on a litter. Our cars whisk us from garage to office to shopping mall and back. They’re like magic carpets with stereos.I

This leisurely life may sound like heaven. Doctors say it’s just a quicker route there.

“Increased or prolonged sedentary time, is associated with deleterious health outcomes.”

Robert Mazzeo
Associate Professor
University of Colorado at Boulder

“Increased or prolonged sedentary time, is associated with deleterious health outcomes,” Robert Mazzeo, an associate professor in CU-Boulder’s Department of Integrative Physiology, emailed us. A paper in the Annals of Internal Medicine, published last month, sitting too much doubles the risk of diabetes and increases cancer risk by about 15 percent.

That La-Z-Boy is looking rather gurney-shaped, no?

It’s time to cram exercise back into our everyday lives. In past columns, we’ve used a toddler as a dumbbell set, done squat-thrusts while cleaning the house and (our favorite) carried a football everywhere. We were constantly catching spirals thrown by strangers in bars – that is, until we got kicked out.

This month’s idea hit us in the gigantic parking lot of the 24-Hour Fitness in Boulder. All the cars were jammed right near the entrance, practically piled up. And a fit guy in tank top bounded out to his Jeep, which was parked in a handicap spot. Yes, he broke a law so he wouldn’t have to walk 10 extra yards into a health club. Where he was probably going to walk on a treadmill.

Parking farther away from your destination is a health strategy endorsed by none other than the American Heart Association.Salt Lake County, in Utah, once ran a public health campaign encouraging folks to “park farther away.” The county painted the faraway spots and handed out surprise iPods and gift certificates to those who came.

But, we wondered, is this all baloney? Parking lots are so small. Can you actually help yourself by walking a few yards?

So, on recent Saturday, we decided to test it, by parking at the end of the lot.

That day, me and Sweetie (the girlfriend) had a full day out. We ran four errands, went to dinner and saw a dance performance. In Broomfield, we visited an authentic little Indian food store called My India’s and a cute little place called the Pantry Shoppe (which unfortunately just closed). In Boulder, we dined at the excellent and long-lived Chinese restaurant Golden Lotus, inhaled at an elegant and mind-blowing pot shop called The Farm, perused the very affordable Bed Bath and Beyond and absorbed some culture at the always weird and endlessly endearing Naropa University.

We knew that we needed to get at least 20 minutes of walking to make a difference. Twenty minutes. That’s because a study published last month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says that, for a sedentary person, walking 20 minutes a day could cut your risk of death from all causes – from cancer to heart disease – by anywhere from 15 or 30 percent.

Over the course of the day, walking from car to store and store to car, we came to realize that parking lots are huge. Plenty big enough to get your fitness on. Heck, big enough to land DC9’s.

On average, we parked 700 feet from the door, about two football fields. Walking that distance took about three minutes. According to our apps, we burned about 10 calories each trip. walking did not noticeably raise our heart rates.

“While parking farther away will likely have only a small effect on one’s overall fitness it will have a significant effect on overall health.”

Robert Mazzeo
Associate Professor
University of Colorado at Boulder

It wasn’t a picnic. The scenery more or less included abandoned shopping carts, blowing trash, oil slicks shaped like Mother Mary, loose rocks from the medians and scraggly bushes. I was nearly run over by a Prius, a Chevy and a Jeep. And I nearly sprained an ankle on a curb. But there were unexpected advantages. First, you don’t waste effort and time prowling the aisles for a close spot. Second, you never misplace your car; it’s always that island off near the horizon. Third, there’s no anxiety getting out, backing out of a tight spot, hoping you don’t nick your neighbor, hoping there isn’t a shopping cart – or a Schnauzer – hiding behind your back wheels. Fourth, sometimes you notice cool things – stores you didn’t know existed, cars you didn’t know they made. There is a fresh-looking restaurant in Boulder called Blooming Beets we’ll have to go back and try.

So, what conclusions did we reach about our health? Well, at the end of the day, we hadn’t walked for 20 minutes. We walked for 38, nearly twice what we needed. We covered 1.5 miles, burned 120 calories and Sweetie burned 100 calories because she’s smaller. She thought she’d lost a pound.

“While parking farther away will likely have only a small effect on one’s overall fitness it will have a significant effect on overall health,” Mazzeo emailed us.
In other words, parking farther away won’t get you into wedding shape, it won’t prep you for the cover of Muscle and Fitness. But you might stay as slim as you are. And you might live longer. As long as you don’t get run over first.

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