Fitness Articles

Is Your Car Making You Fat?

More Drive Time May Mean More Unwanted Pounds

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You needed a few things from the store, so you drove a couple blocks to pick them up. Then you were hungry (but in a hurry), so you pulled through Big Burger. And now, ready for your requisite workout at the gym, you’re repeatedly rounding the parking lot trying to find a spot near the door.

What’s wrong with this picture? More to the point, who’s steering your life, you or your car?

Don’t get me wrong. I would never put down the love affair between Americans and their cars. The car is a wonderful invention, giving us power, convenience, and connection to family and friends that we otherwise wouldn’t have. Whereas our pioneer ancestors were able to cover only 15-20 miles on a good day in a covered wagon, we master much greater distances on a daily basis, for work and play. We have wider horizons—both mentally and physically—because Henry Ford made the automobile available en masse.

On the other hand, we sometimes seem trapped in our cars, as if appearing in some bizarre horror movie. We don’t walk anywhere, except to get from the front door of our homes to the front seat of our SUVs, and we really seem to believe that a few raindrops might melt us. Despite the fact that half of all trips in urban areas are three miles or less (41 percent are two miles or less)—and that several recent polls have found that a majority of Americans would like to bike and walk more—statistics show our rate of walking has dropped by 42 percent over the past 20 years! With the number of overweight Americans increasing by 40 percent over that same time period, you don’t have to do sophisticated calculations to guess that there might be some link.

The health benefits of even moderate walking and biking (20-30 minutes, four times per week) are well documented and astonishing. Both reduce stress, as well as heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, stroke, and breast or colon cancer. Some experts say walking relieves constipation and cures impotence. At the very least, both make you stronger, better looking and—best of all—more aerobically fit.

So why are we so resistant to putting our knowledge to work? Why do we always default to driving when we could walk or bike? And even more importantly, how do we change this mindset?

Here are some observations that might help:

Walking and biking really are fun!
As with many things that are good for us, walking and biking are also enjoyable—but we have to get there to be reminded of that. I routinely "make" my nephews and niece go walking with me and just as routinely have to stifle a few chuckles when they complain bitterly about going and then wind up having a wonderful time-- racing each other, poking in the creek, enjoying conversations, savoring the sunshine and fresh air. In fact, some of their best memories are of such adventures—like the time my niece and I made her birthday dinner into an event with a brisk moonlight walk to and from the designated restaurant. (Her parents, she confided emphatically, would never do such an unconventional thing!)
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About The Author

Rebecca Pratt Rebecca Pratt
A freelance writer who contributes to various newspapers and magazines, Becky loves covering ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Member Comments

    Finally. An article about not moving. I get so sick of all these reports and commercials about fast foods causing obesity. Yes, eating junk food will cause you to gain weight. But, hey, a calorie is a calorie. Everyone talks about supersize and fancy coffees. These have been around for as long as I remember. What hasn't been around is the drive thrus.

    We used to go to a fast food restaurant about once a week or so when I was a kid. We had a snack before bed every night; usually ice cream with chocolate syrup. Friday night was special. My sister and I would walk to the store and buy soda, a bag of chips and an individual sweet, like a fruit pie or cream horn.

    The difference then is we WALKED. Everywhere. Or rode our bikes. All day, everyday. If we went to a restaurant, we got out of the car and walked into the restaurant. If we went to the bank, we got out of the car and walked inside. In a town near us, there is even a drive-thru creamy stand. This generation has become sedentary. We have moved away from cities and become so busy, that we don't even think about getting out of our cars to run errands.

    Me included. That is why I have made a concious effort to park farther away and to try to stay away from tbe drive thrus. Thanks for this article and letting me vent! This has been on my mind for quite some time. - 3/13/2016 4:21:52 PM
  • I am one of the lucky ones. I am now retired and I live 6 miles from the grocery store. I am basically a home body and don't drive much. If I drive to GA (5 or 6 hours) to visit my sister, I always stop two times during the drive to stretch my legs. - 3/13/2016 2:46:41 PM
  • I try to walk everywhere I can now, even if it's an over two hour walk. It's great exercise! I only take the bus if I'm going somewhere with my mom. Or I will take the bus there, like if I am trying on clothes and I want to smell fresh and clean, and then I walk home. - 5/31/2015 3:48:18 PM
  • Well I know my driving job stopped me from exercising and my weight went up 4 stone 56lbs.

    I now walk instead of taking the car but for shopping - 1/9/2015 4:44:40 AM
  • Very good article. As someone that lives in the suburbs, I'm amazed at the number of people who drive everywhere or that can't believe I prefer walking whenever I can. Our local Y is a mile from our house and once a week my boys take swim classes there, so if the weather allows, we always walk. When people hear that we walk a whole mile to the Y (and further home as we take a longer route), they can't believe we'd walk that far, through a residential area!!! They think 1 mile is too far to walk. And one other time we had some friends over for a picnic and one friend had forgotten something for the dish they brought and asked if there was a grocery store nearby. We have one 2 blocks away and sent him there on foot. He got home and said if he'd known it was that far, he would have driven! That far???? You can see the back of the store from our house! It just shocks me how "lazy" much of our society has become. I always try to walk when I can and at my job and when I do drive to stores to shop, I always park at the back end of the parking lot, I consider it free exercise. And if I have multiple stores in a shopping plaza to go to, I will park at one end and walk to each store (maybe run bags back to my car if I have something heavy or a lot of stuff). Walking for most people is free and easy, so we should walk when we can. - 6/13/2014 7:41:49 AM
  • This article was clearly written by someone who lives in the suburbs or urban areas. I live in the country in the Midwest. It is 5 miles to town on rough gravel roads and very curvy narrow highways w/o shoulders. That being said, I drive to town and then park near the back of parking lots to get some walking. I will also walk from store to store w/o using the SUV. Country life does provide one walking option that city life doesn't: the long walk to my mailbox (lol)! - 1/31/2014 11:05:22 AM
  • I live in and area that has a high rate of Pedestrian vs Car accidents, so walking can be scary. I ride my bike when ever I can, but a lot of drivers have "two wheel blindness". Basically, anything on the road with out four or more wheels does not get consideration. I do not own a car and use the bus, so I probably walk a little more that the ave person with a car. - 8/25/2013 2:20:21 PM
  • I walk a lot and I love it. I want to walk more....would love to live in a place where I could walk to the store or to the coffee shop or to work. I have walked the three miles home from the store once but the road has no sidewalk, no shoulder and lots of maniac drivers, so that probably won't happen again. - 8/14/2013 9:27:36 AM
  • I appreciate this article! We all need to get out more. One major realization I had was when I introduced worms to my preschoolers. I teach 100 of them in a garden each week and more than one exclaimed, "I've never seen these before!" They were so excited! Worms were a major part of the scenery of my childhood and I realized that these kids were being driven door-to-door, unable to experience the wonder of worms and the other natural beauties around us. - 1/20/2013 3:37:44 PM
  • I agree with Ms. Pratt's statement: "No matter where you live, you can park the car sometimes". The comments (re: people living in "war zones") reminded me of something emphasized in the book, "Super Freakonomics". The "Steves" wrote that walking drunk is even more dangerous than driving drunk (not that I advocate doing either, and if you're on SP, hopefully you're not drinking much alcohol, anyway. Too many calories). I was just thinking the other day that I'd like to walk to the gym that I'm planning on joining, but although it's not in Darfur, the road is very busy, has no shoulder and is curvy. Not a safe situation for anyone walking in my very friendly, mostly crime-free town. Just remember, as the "Steves" say, "Friends don't let friends walk drunk".

    : ) - 12/29/2012 4:45:49 AM
    The comments are interesting but - I see a lady a little older than I am walking the sidewalkless roads I am surrounded by. The pounds have "melted" away and we all wave. I see that my work now has bike racks - because people brought them inside to keep them safe until the company responded. What kept me from walking more? I needed a raincoat for my rolling briefcase because it let water in where the handle came out. Guess what, wheels died from the walking I was doing. New rolling briefcase models come with a rainflap that zips shut. It really does depend on me, not on my environment. In this life, one thing we control - ourselves. One thing we can exert direct (physical) intervention on - our environment. One thing we can influence by the choices we make - each other. :) I have my own excuses, but that is what they are. Oh, and I own waterproof boots and shoes for walking in Oregon's proverbial unending rain. Don't take an umbrella because the wind steals it from me. How can you look your obstacles in the eye and make them into opportunities? Oh, and I pack healthy food that I can eat while at stoplights or by opening the package and taking handfuls without looking away from the road. My job can also cause me to drive 75-100 miles per day. Burgerville, McD's, KFC and Muchas Gracias are all easy alternatives without going out of my way. Now, all three of them post calorie and fat counts. Wow has that changed my choices! - 12/28/2012 10:11:02 AM
  • Great article! I grew up in a different generation and "world". We lived about 2 miles from town and 2 miles from church - no car - and we walked. I do know that the "world" is not as safe today as it was then. I could babysit, take my little charges to the movie and walk home after dark - and be perfectly safe!
    But, I think we do have far more opportunities to walk that we take advantage of - if we would just look for them.
    barb - 10/30/2012 2:53:55 PM
    By The Way, that annoying guy in the work zone that you almost ran down because you were too busy trying to get to your gym so you could work out, that was me. Please put your agenda, cell phone, and self-absorption away, and pay attention to what's actually going on right in front of you, right now. Some of us are actually on our feet working. - 10/30/2012 2:23:42 PM
  • It's a good idea in theory but traffic is too dangerous. Crossing major intersections is like jumping off a cliff. We drive to parks and walk. Too dangerous for seniors to walk with no sidewalks. - 7/5/2012 7:17:19 AM
  • I agree that we are a society that needs to go most places in a car. after reading this story about cars and since the weather was wet today i looked the grocery store i use had no bike rake or a safe place to store a bike. i don't know about where a lot of people live but in Spokane you can't even leave your bike in the front yard and get a dirk of water or go to the bath room with out locking it if you want to have it there when you return. my next errand took me to a mall one bike rake in and isolated area of the mall not a safe place to leave something if you want there when you return. The post office no bike rake and two restaurants i drove by no bike rake. I said something at the gym about about the fact they had not place to lock your bike the two people at the desk just laughed and said who rides a bile ?? they have bike to work week here but once you get there where do you put the bike???/ - 4/25/2012 10:56:01 PM

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