A new study from Stanford University’s Department of No Shit, Sherlock shows that Americans are among the laziest when it comes to walking anywhere other than to the fridge for more chocolate pie. Researchers used the step counters in the smartphones of 700,000 people in 46 different countries to figure this out:
Scott Delp, a professor of bioengineering who co-led the research, told the BBC the “study is 1,000 times larger than any previous study on human movement.”
The least lazy, according to the study published in the journal Nature, are the Chinese, particularly those in Hong Kong, where people averaged 6,880 a steps a day.
The worst nation was nearby Indonesia, where people walked nearly half as much, averaging 3,513 steps a day. The worldwide average is 4,961 steps, with Americans averaging 4,774.
Now this study might seem pointless, but it turns out it does reveal an interesting fact. Indonesia has the lowest average steps per day for its population so you’d think they’d be much more likely to be obese similar to people in the United States, but it turns out that’s not the case because there is much less variation in the population between who walks a lot and who doesn’t. The researchers refer to this as “activity inequality” and it turns out the bigger that inequality is the more likely a nation is to be obese:
In countries with less obesity, the Stanford researchers say, people typically walked a similar amount every day. In nations with higher rates of obesity, there were larger gaps between those who walked a lot and those who walked very little.
Among those latter countries is the United States, where “activity inequality” ranks Americans fourth from the bottom overall.
“If you think about some people in a country as ‘activity rich’ and others as ‘activity poor,’ the size of the gap between them is a strong indicator of obesity levels in that society,” Delp told the Stanford news site.
Tim Althoff, who worked on the study, pointed to Sweden, with an average of 5,863 steps, as having one of the smallest activity inequality gaps. “It also had one of the lowest rates of obesity,” he said.
Additionally, whether you lived in dense urban or less dense suburban areas also plays a factor:
Jennifer Hicks, another researcher in the study, told the Stanford news site that they examined three California cities located close to one another – San Francisco, San Jose and Fremont. They found San Francisco held both the highest walkability score and the lowest level of activity inequality.
“In cities that are more walkable, everyone tends to take more daily steps, whether male or female, young or old, healthy weight or obese,” Hicks said.
I can’t speak for any other Americans, but I am a fundamentally lazy person who hates to exercise even though I know I really should. My previous attempts at establishing a walking routine have been documented on this very blog, all of which I gave up on. I just can’t seem to get into the walking habit.
That said, the move to our new home does put me within a reasonable walking distance to a few stores, though it’s still longer than I’d like to attempt in my current shape. We’ve managed to land in a decent neighborhood where it’s not uncommon to see folks out walking for exercise during the day.
I doubt I’ll try getting into walking again simply because I already know I won’t stick with it. However, part of the my motivation for buying a house was so I’d have someplace to store a bicycle and now that I have one I’ve started looking for a decent bike that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg that I could start peddling around the block a few times. The reason I want one that isn’t expensive is just in case I fail at establishing that as a routine too. No point in spending $700 on a bike I don’t use. Did that once with the elliptical exercise machine I bought back when we lived in Ann Arbor. Not making that mistake again.
There’s a local bike shop not too far from my house that I would like to stop by this weekend and take a look around. I don’t need anything with a million gears on it, just something that will stand up to my weight. I used to love riding my bike as a kid well up through my teenaged years and I’m hoping I’ll still enjoy it today. Granted, it won’t do me much good during the winter months, but some exercise would be better than none.
As for the rest of the country, I’ve no solutions to offer up to get us all to exercise a bit more. If I have a hard time motivating myself to do it there’s no way I can think of some way to get everyone else to do it.