Monday, September 29, 2014

Keep Moving

Sedentary lifestyles account for a lot of health problems, especially in urban areas where people make their living in buildings. Our bodies are made for motion. One reason our leg muscles are large is that self locomotion has been a requirement since the beginning of time. Even after equines were domesticated, we continued to hone our lower extremities in catching, taming and riding the animals. Yes, it takes leg power to ride a horse, donkey, camel, elephant or mule. When the internal combustion engine came along, many of our lifestyles changed from active to sedentary almost overnight. But savvy people still understood that we must use our muscle power or lose it, so healthful activities such as walking, cycling, running and climbing became lifesavers. No, we don’t have to be devoted to exercise regimens to get the healthful benefits of leg motion. We can take the stairs, park further away from our workplace and participate in recreational activities that require movement.
The elevator and escalator have their place in very tall buildings and airports, but it does not take much more time to take the stairs. And the time lost is balanced by the benefit of climbing to our hearts and respiratory systems. If you are not accustomed to taking the stairs, you should start slow, maybe just one flight the first week, adding additional flights as time goes by. Gradually increasing the number of flights of stairs you take will result in more stamina and more endorphins, those little chemicals that make for a happier work day. Have you noticed that people who are more physically active seem happier and better adjusted?
Parking further away from work or getting off the bus or subway at a distance and walking will result in similar benefits. This adjustment in lifestyle will result in the need for walking shoes and raingear that you can stow at the workplace, keeping a good pair of work-appropriate shoes on hand there. Often, when city people walk further to work, they discover neat little shops or cafes that they did not know existed. Some even make new friends and look forward to morning and evening conversations along the way. There is something about the rhythm of walking that enhances conversation and makes us more voluble.
Finally, there are many recreational activities that require leg use. My personal favorite is bicycling, though I do not enjoy that activity in traffic. Thus, I look for peaceful bike routes. Most cities have well lighted trails with scenic stops that are seldom congested. If you look for them, you will find them. Otherwise, investing in a mountain bike and riding off-road where there is no motorized traffic can be a relaxing and muscle-building hobby.

So, since modern American urban society is skewed against use of our leg muscles, we have to find ways to keep them active and operating the way they were designed. Finding venues such as climbing stairs, walking further and having fun outside, will have positive benefits upon our physical health as well as our mental well-being.

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