Fitness Articles

Is Your Car Making You Fat?

More Drive Time May Mean More Unwanted Pounds

394SHARES

No matter where you live, you can park the car sometimes.
Although I’m lucky enough to now live in a tree-lined historic neighborhood where it’s easy to walk or bike, I can’t think of anywhere I’ve ever lived that there weren’t some opportunities to do both. The only real variable in the equation was me, and whether I was willing. Working at fitness requires a conscious effort— it’s so tempting to always hop in our cars. Get in the habit of asking yourself, on a regular basis, whether you can make a short trip without taking along several tons of steel.

Minor changes can have major impact.
Years ago a close relative, sporting the typical weight gain of a woman in her 50s who’d raised four kids, began a daily program of walking. In the midst of divorce after 30 years of marriage, and working and attending college as well, she found the regimen a great stress reliever as well as a physical pick-up. Although she spent only about 45 minutes each day covering just three miles, the results were long term and dramatic. Neighbors later marveled that her excess weight had "just melted off." What they didn’t realize, of course, was that she had faithfully walked five to six days a week, rain or shine, while they were ensconced in their cars or homes—and that it was her consistency that had conquered.

Friends don’t let friends drive…when walking or biking is feasible.
One of the things that most helps me leave my car behind is having a buddy in my neighborhood. Even when we’re eating high-calorie fare—and hey, she likes pizza just as much as I do—we don’t feel quite so bad about it if we hike to dinner and back. Just knowing I have a friend who’s willing to chuck her wheels sometimes seems to increase my motivation and ability to do the same.

There’s no getting around it—navigating your way through life often requires a car. But when it doesn’t, try steering a new course, one that’s not only healthier but also more enjoyable!

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394SHARES

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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

  • 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
  • ELLDOCKE
    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
  • ALDEBARANIAN
    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
  • I will admit, I read the readers' posts before I read the article. Very enjoyable comments. - 4/25/2012 10:44:39 PM
  • AZURE-SKY
    Like most of the "advice" articles on Sparkpeople and other health websites, this one talks about the ideal situation. What the author fails to acknowledge is that walking outside can actually be hazardous to your health. Pollution from cars, factories, pollen, etc., wreak havoc on those with respiratory ailments.

    I used to live in a very rural area where the roads were windy, with no shoulder. Walking these roads was risky in broad daylight because of people who drove too fast, as well as the local wildlife, which included skunks, coyotes, unleashed dogs, and even bears.

    I now live in the desert Southwest, where in the middle of April, temperatures can hover around 100 degrees. Again, not exactly suitable for walking outdoors. It's almost 10 miles to the closest grocery store, walking or biking is not an option. So, I exercise indoors most of the time. I have Leslie Sansone's Walk Away the Pounds videos and can do a 5-mile advanced walking workout in an hour, in the comfort of my air-conditioned, pollen-free living room. - 4/25/2012 7:00:21 PM
  • I wished I lived in the city again, I hate having to drive everywhere but unfortunately it is a way of life out in the country. When I lived in the city/on campus I lost SO much weight from walking everywhere. I just settle for the gym now. - 4/25/2012 5:43:05 PM
  • I live in the middle of nowhere. For me, walking is an option for exercise, but not to actually get anywhere. I actually have to load my bike onto the rack and drive to find a nice place to ride as the roads near my house do not accommodate bicycles well (no shoulders, mountain roads, speeding tri-axles) however, I would love to be able to walk or ride my bike places - 4/25/2012 5:34:56 PM
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