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AUGUST 17, 2008   

Shop to get fit

While running at Edgewater Park today, I again found myself thinking about the differences between Americans and Europeans. Today it was prompted by a visit to a restaurant where we noticed quite a few obese people. I'm not talking about 30-40 lbs. overweight, I'm talking about people who are so wide you cannot imagine them fitting into an airline seat. Why do you see folks like this everywhere in the U.S. and very rarely in Europe? Is it genetic? Diet? Exercise?

Aerial view of parking lot showing empty spaces far from storeI think it's cars. We drive too much. If we didn't drive places but walked or biked instead, Americans would be fitter and healthier. It's that simple.

But change is hard. If it's hard we probably won't do it. So can we start to change in a relatively painless way? I think yes, and here's how: we Americans know how to shop, so let's capitalize on what we do best.

Walk instead

My first suggestion is when you decide to buy something, walk to the store instead of getting into your car. It takes about 20 minutes to walk a mile, so any trip within a mile radius of your house is very doable. A two-mile round trip at a decent pace burns about 200 calories for a 180 pound person, so if you walk rather than drive to McDonald's you'll burn off 1/3 the calories of that Big Mac. See? We're making progress already.

The biggest problem is deciding to do it. As I mentioned a couple of days ago, you can use Google Maps to get walking directions from your house or office to anywhere you want to go. You can use this walking calculator to see how many calories you'll burn based on your weight and walking speed. Now just start walking.

But, you're thinking to yourself, what if it's too far or too dark out or what you need to buy is too heavy to carry or... well, lots of things. You can still do better even when you drive.

Drive, but...

When you pull into the store parking lot, resist the temptation to find that "great" parking space. Instead, park as far away as you can and—you guessed it—walk to the store. This will burn fewer calories than walking a mile, but it offers a couple of other benefits: it can save gas, reduce pollution, reduce the chances of your car getting dinged by a shopping cart, and of course give you some of that exercise you need.

By parking near the lot entrance rather than the store entrance you cut your driving distance, thus saving money and reducing pollution.

When you park in that vast empty area at the edge of the lot you'll probably be able to pull in and go through to the adjacent row, meaning when it comes time to leave you'll pull straight out. More gas saved by not backing in or out of the space.

And of course if the Home Depot here doesn't have what you need, be sure to walk all the way to the other end of the shopping cneter and check to see if Target does. If you're a serious comparison shopper, those calories burned will start to add up.

Sure, I'm being a little facetious with this suggestion, but I'm dead serious that the important thing is to do something. The simple act of thinking whether you should drive or walk is a place to start. If you decide to walk, fantastic. But if you decide to drive, that's OK too, just park far way. Do the little things that are easy first, then work your way up to harder things. The hardest part is getting started.

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