I am in Houston. This is not to point a finger at Houston, but merely to point out how our environment is anti-fit and pro-fat. Be prepared. This is a rant, but I will be brief.

I am staying at a very nice Hyatt Hotel. I am on the second floor. I can’t find the stairs to walk up and down between the ground level and my room. Why? Because there aren’t any…at least that is what the woman at the reception desk tells me. She says, “There aren’t any stairs for guests, but the elevators are safe in the case of an emergency.” She looked astonished when I explain that my question is a health question, not a safety question. Apparently, she hasn’t had a lot of guests asking how they can walk up and down the stairs to get from point A to point B.

While I am on the topic of using stairs, instead of the elevator, to go up or down one floor, let me tell you that my current workplace has secure access to the staircase (a safety issue). I finally figured out that my security badge will allow me to get back into the offices if I use the steps (although it took a while, asking a number of different people to determine that). So, today, I took the stairs. They are bare concrete, stained with something brown. They are ugly, in fact, a little creepy. The unspoken message is, only use these stairs if you really, really have to escape from the building in case of emergency.

After work tonight, I parked my car at the hotel and walked to The Galleria, one of the best shopping centers in the world. But crossing the main street from the hotel to the mall was, frankly, scary. It took forever for the light to signal that a pedestrian could cross. Cars going straight, turning right, turning left, and going fast to wherever they were going. Clearly, pedestrians crossing the street are not a priority in this neighborhood, and, in fact, this action may be hazardous to the health of the brave walker who tries to get to the Galleria on foot.

I wonder why this is the case, but then I noticed that no one else is walking. Ah, now I get it. If there are no pedestrians, why bother to time the signals to help walkers get across the street safely? The unspoken message is that I should have driven the two blocks to the mall, paid to park, and then driven two blocks back to the hotel. This is what the “environment” supports.

Hey folks, why do we have to go to a gym to walk on a treadmill or use a stairmaster in order to move our body parts? Why can’t we get some exercise during our day-to-day activities at work and after work?

I suggest you pay attention to the details of your everyday environment. Is your community designed to make it easy and pleasant to walk or ride your bike from one place to another? Or is it designed to get you and keep you in your cars? Does your workplace encourage body movement and healthy eating or does it have built-in barriers to physical activity and healthy eating?

For those of you who have to fly on planes a lot for work (does anyone really do it for pleasure anymore?), ask yourself, what do the airlines want you to do on those 3-, 4-, or 5hour flights. Do their procedures keep you trapped in your tiny rented space for hours on end, or do they make it easy to stand up and walk in the aisles?

If this type of stuff bothers you and if you would like to see real healthcare reform, then I suggest you become an LHE (a local health environmentalist). Let’s not quibble about the name. If environmentalist sounds too liberal or green for your tastes, then suggest another name, but not another approach. Remember that obesity and physical unfitness are politically agnostic. Liberals get fat, libertarians get fat, and conservatives get fat. Red or blue, Republican or Democrat, we all can benefit from an environmental focus on fitness.

If you want to live in a healthy community, live in a healthy home space and work in a physical environment that promotes your health, then get out of your car and onto your feet and agitate, really agitate, for structural changes in your environment that support fitness.

1 COMMENT

  1. Amen! This is really the secret to America’s obesity epidemic – why it is so much owrse here than in most of even the Industrialized world. We have designed and engineered almost any need to do more than the minimum of physical activity while getting to work, school, or shopping. Speak up for Pedestrians, and bicyclists. Join with seniors – many of whom at some point can no longer drive, but can still walk – if we make it possible.

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