There is a great article in the current Runner’s World (October 2011, South Africa edition). Under the Planet Runner feature by Simon Gear, it’s called “Staying Alive”. In the article he talks about a recent study published in the British Medical Journal that warned that heart attack risk was made much worse by our overall sedentary lifestyles and NOT mitigated by the single block of daily exercise that is the norm among the health conscious.
Gear goes on to consider “What do humans do naturally?” and says “As the rest of the great apes rested in the thick jungle, we stretched up onto two legs and strode purposefully out into the savannah. And we’ve been the very best at walking long distances ever since.” The other excellent point he makes, which I loved, was “The idea that any animal (other than us) would limit its daily activity to one 30-minute burst, followed by 10 hours sitting motionless in front of a succession of screens seems absurd, and yet that is the life we’ve chosen for ourselves.”
As Africa becomes more and more “developed,” they, like us, walk less and less. But even if they no longer do it, most adults remember walking long and feel they could always do it if necessary. When I was in Cameroon, I remember people telling me of the path that led to Nigeria—it was “only” a 5-6 day walk. In a village on the Congo River in the DRC, I was talking to some guys about how they got certain goods (they were 200+ km from the nearest town which didn’t really have much). They said they could always go down to Lubumbashi on their bikes and carry stuff back (which meant pushing a fully loaded bike on dirt paths), it “only” took 2 days to get there. When planning to build schools or medical clinics, there seems to be a general consensus that people (that is, children, sick people) can easily travel 10-20km (6-12mi) to reach a facility.
I remember the days before e-mail in the office when you had to get up from your desk and walk to someone else’s desk to talk with them—particularly if you had to talk about something you needed to be looking at. I worked as a file clerk for a year and was on my feet all day long, fetching files, filing them, delivering new files—bending over or squatting down to reach low drawers, carrying piles of files, standing at a table to physically sort them, etc. Do such jobs even exist anymore?
And I remember feeling jealous when laws about not smoking in the office meant that smokers got regular breaks throughout the day, many every hour. One place I worked, we had a very nice balcony and they all got to go out and stand in the sun and breath fresh air (how ironic!); at another place, they had to go out through two rounds of security and down 10 floors and each break lasted at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, the rest of stayed glued to our now computerized desks.
In my current office I have the advantage of being forced to take a 45 minute walk every day at lunchtime because our office is in a residential area of town and there is no food to be found anywhere nearby. And everyone in the office is quite strict about taking their allotted lunch hour. So I walk to town to find something to eat and walk back. This, in addition to riding my bicycle to work and back everyday keeps me more active than most. However, I still feel the stiffness and lethargy that sets in when you sit for long times because, most often, I sit motionless in front of the computer from my arrival at work until lunch and again after lunch until the end of the day. So, I think I will follow Mr. Gear’s call to bring back the break.
“It’s time to win it back. Set your watch to beep once an hour. Get up, nod politely to the busy beavers on either side of you in the cubicle farm, and walk briskly and purposefully out in to the car park. A quick march to the nearest tree and back, a pause for a mouthful of water (something else we don’t do nearly enough) and back to the desk.”
Won’t you join me?