Joined at the Hip
America is losing it. We’ve all heard about how we, as a country, have been losing the international popularity contest and the foreclosures struggle but, no worries, we’re not losing in all arenas. In fact, there is one thing that we have most definitely been gaining: fat. Yes, just when it was beginning to look like our world dominance might be slipping, our people have demonstrated that we can still go above and beyond expectations. Congratulations America! Other nations may think that they can compete in the battle of the bulge but we’ve again proved that America is #1 as we Americans become fatter and fatter at unprecedented rates. Yes! We the people of the United States of America can still succeed at anything we put our mouths to!
It is estimated, if trends don’t change, that by the year 2020 three out of four Americans will be obese. But so what? Why should we care? If we are all obese it’s like none of us are, right? Unfortunately, obesity is linked to a number of health conditions, things that tend to kill you. Heart disease, for instance, is the #1 cause of death in the United States and very much related to obesity and poor lifestyle choices. And, if all the alarming stats on the ever-increasing rates of heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes don’t faze you perhaps the monetary implications of our fatness will. Obesity cost those living in the U.S. $117 billion dollars in the year 2000, that’s $400 for every man, woman, and child. Health care for overweight and obese individuals costs about 37 percent more than individuals of normal weight. What does that mean? The cost of treatment for illnesses related to obesity is comparable to the financial toll of smoking-related disease at about 9 percent of all health care expenditures. Yet, someone who would never be dumb enough to pick up a cigarette may eat lunch at McDonald’s every day and watch 2-4 hours of TV every night. They might never be inclined to exercise and may do nothing to counteract the creeping weight gain cycle they find themselves in-except of course that annual new year’s diet that they will probably give up on after two weeks. They may continue to eat fatty snacks and sugary treats and skimp on the fruits and veggies. They might keep on preferring the couch to running trails, basketball courts, soccer fields, and gyms. Then, as the years go by, they might just find themselves morbidly obese and diagnosed with diabetes or possibly the victim of a heart attack.
Most Americans don’t seem to truly grasp the consequences of their daily habits. They lack the education or motivation to make healthy lifestyle alterations so they stay in their well-formed habit ruts until their arteries look like the inside of a Cheese Wiz can or their blood is sugary enough to be mistaken for corn syrup. The company I work for, however, has been doing something to provide incentives for change.
This year my company participated in the Global Corporate Challenge. What is the Global Corporate Challenge you ask? It’s a contest based off the World Health Organization’s recommendation that individuals should take at least 10,000 steps a day to reduce their risk of disease and improve their health. For the challenge you join forces with 6 of your coworkers, preferably ones that aren’t couch potatoes, and form a 7 person team. Your awesome team competes with all the other teams in your company and in other corporations around the world for the highest daily step average over the course of four months. In order to monitor exactly how many steps they take, the participants have to wear a pedometer every day, everywhere they move, for those 4 months. Sounds like kind of a pain, right? Yeah, a bit, but the results are quite revealing.
When I heard my company was joining the GCC I was all in. I’m an active girl so I thought it would be fun and that I could rock it. So I captained a team of hooligans. We called ourselves The Gait Mates (Yes, another goofy name of my invention.) and began wearing those silly pedometers around everywhere. My team didn’t do too shabby. We averaged 14,875 steps/day and finished 7th in our company out of 37 teams. We were also ranked 1,743 internationally out of 13,972 teams. Sweet! And everyone at my work, not just my team, seemed to step up to the challenge of their rivals. (Oh the puns and references!) As a business we placed 4th out of all the participating companies in the nation. Kudos to us!
How about me? Did this challenge entice me to drastically alter all my habits? Ah…no, not really. Since I am already very active and regularly involved in mountain biking, running, soccer, racquetball, rock climbing, snowboarding, and any other crazy hobby I can add to my list, I didn’t really need to alter my exercise patterns. In the midst of the challenge I was training for a half marathon and running up to 10 miles a day. That crazy distance seems like it should translate into a ridiculously high daily step average, right? Well, I discovered that that’s sadly not the case. When you’re running you take longer strides than when you’re walking, hence you get less steps per mile even though you are doing more exercise; the more you push yourself with larger strides, as you try to go ever faster, the fewer steps you acquire for all your work. Doh! This means I really got jipped off on my running steps! Oh well. I still managed to get a 14,005 daily step average over the course of the contest. That may not have been the number I was anticipating but hey, I was still way above 10,000 so it’s all good.
The challenge may not have changed my habits but it did lead to a sobering realization. Like many workers, my job requires a lot of desk time. I’m constantly at my computer writing up reports, doing research, whatever. I found that on the days I worked and didn’t go running or biking afterwards I only got about 5,000 steps. Geeze! Now you may be thinking that this was because I park my car two feet from my employer’s door and ride the elevator up to my desk. But no, that’s not the case. (And frankly, you should know better than to think I am that lazy! Shame on you!) I always park my car on the far end of the lot and take the stairs when I’m going in and out of work. Yet, my number of steps was despicably low on most of the days I didn’t conscientiously make an effort to exercise when I got home. What does this mean for all of you? If you work at a desk job and take a seat in front of the tube the second you get home from the office chances are you are taking about 10 steps everyday and probably getting plumper by the minute.
So, while I don’t necessarily recommend that you all buy a pedometer and wear it everywhere you go for months, I would suggest that you become more aware of your activity levels on a daily basis, especially if you, like me, spend way too much time in a life-sucking cubicle. Taking the stairs, walking over to a coworker’s desks instead of calling them, parking a little further away, and taking a walk on your lunch or break can help. While seemingly insignificant practices like those can make a big difference over time, the main lesson I took home from this challenge is that those little things really aren’t enough; they won’t make up for a general lack of activity. So the bottom line is that our bottoms need to find their way off of couches and onto the seats of bikes. Just twenty minutes of exercise a day can literally add years onto your life. Not such a bad investment is it?
Luckily for me I have way too much energy and therefore absolutely crave activity. This antsyness has served me well and getting lots of steps has never been a problem. I know many of you don’t share my odd energetic excesses and to you I say, especially those trapped in cubicleland, just exercise anyway. Then, just maybe, we as a nation can be known for something else besides being lazy porkers.