Sunday, 19 January 2014

City living healthier than suburbia

It's good to be vindicated by science. Back in April 2011, I wrote: "If you live in distant exurbia, your dependence on the automobile leaves you vulnerable to obesity in middle age. Now's the time to leave that car and shed some fat. If you can't cycle all the way into work, cycle to the station or nearest bus loop." [See whole post here.]

I wrote that post on the basis of observation and anecdotal evidence - Baysian inference, indeed. Many people that I know who live out beyond the borders of Warsaw and have few public transport options become dependent on the car. They will flop into the big, black SUV to go even short distances, because that's the default no-thinking, no-strain option. The result is weight gain and long-term health issues.

Now a group of researchers from Toronto have plotted the city's geography, breaking it down by residential density and walkability to destinations, against the incidence of obesity or diabetes. The results are clear: "Individuals in less walkable areas were up to one-third more likely to be obese or to have diabetes." [See the whole survey here]

Wow. That's a very clear confirmation of what I've long suspected; not only are cars the least efficient form of transport - they're also bad for their owners' health.

Walking and cycling are healthy, sitting in a car is not. Walking from home to the bus stop or station, from the bus stop to the station to work and back again, using walking and public transport to get between meetings during the working day, gives those who eschew the car in daily use the chance to get fit. We are encouraged (by the Surgeon General in the USA, by the NHS in the UK and by the World Health Organization) to walk 10,000 paces a day (around 8km/5miles), five days a week. This recommendation has been around for over a decade.

The developed world has passed 'peak car'; car ownership is no longer the priority and status symbol it once was (at least in sophisticated western cities). There are fewer cars per 1,000 citizens in Berlin than in Warsaw. The chic urban lifestyle has little car for an automobile as an accessory - if at all a small one - think Mini, Fiat 500, Smart or Toyota iQ.

It's so much easier to monitor these days with simple pedometers becoming increasingly available. Indeed, most smartphones can be turned into pedometers by download one of any number of apps which show you how many paces you've carried your device. So much easier than measuring your journey on Google Earth, which is what I've been doing up to now. And in days gone by, an opisometer and an Ordnance Survey map.

Since New Year's Day, I've been logging my activity each day on a spreadsheet, with pleasing results. Last week, I walked 46,414 paces, an average of 6,631 paces day. Now, the interesting thing is that this was during a week of bad weather, and none of this walking was recreational - it was purely functional, getting from a to b.

And I'm back at the sit-ups, well before the start of Lent. I reckon if I have one primary physical exercise goal, it's to lose inches from my circumference. I'm up to 40 twice a day, three times at the weekend; it will be interesting to see how much slimmer I can get before Lent even kicks off.

This time last year:
Ikaria - the island where people forget to die
[Guess what - this Greek isle is not a place for drivers]

This time two years ago
Miserable depths of winter

This time three years ago:
This time last year:
From - a short story (Part 1)

This time four years ago:
A month until Lent starts

This time five years ago:
World's biggest airliner over Poland

This time six years ago:
More pre-Lenten thoughts


Bob said...

Michael - what is the device you are using to measure steps?


Michael Dembinski said...

I have a Tanita pedometer, bought in the UK, very good (3-axis movement detector, so you can have it in your pocket, bag, hand from belt etc).

As back-up I have the app Noom Walk on my Android smartphone.

At the end of today (too awful outside to walk anywhere) I clocked up 3,252 according to the Tanita, and 3,211 according to the app.

Bob said...

Thanks Michael

We walked down past Adam's and back - about 4km. Outbound it was windy inbound calm. Adam was out with the new dog so had a chance for a chat.


AndrzejK said...

Ah the wonders of inference. maybe just maybe the dwellers of Toronto downtown (or whatever they call the city centre in the Americas) are richer and use the gym. Just a thought?

Michael Dembinski said...

@ AndrzejK

You may well be right. If it were not for gyms, it might not be 'one third more', but only 'a quarter more'. Cause and effect clearly seen.