I was taking a delightful bike ride on a sunny but brisk December day in San Diego, and I actually passed a father and son who were riding electric bikes (no pedaling). Just a couple of minutes later I saw a family zipping around like robots on Segways. Those images kind of spoiled my ride—for two reasons.
First, instead of encouraging their kids to be active, these parents were promoting the easy joys of slothfulness. I’m sure they thought they were being good parents by having fun with their children, getting them outdoors, and introducing them to cool technology. Here we are, 10 years into the New Millenium, and teaching your child to avoid physical activity is still considered good parenting. With childhood obesity constantly in the media, why aren’t parents, as well as health professionals, public officials, school officials, and people in general, more concerned about making sure kids get enough physical activity?
That brings me to the second thought that spoiled my ride. The campaign to exterminate physical activity! Since the dawn of humanity people have been dreaming of ways to reduce their walking, get someone else to do the heavy work, and avoid sweating. For millennia it was pretty hard to avoid physical activity and stay alive. But in the past couple of hundred years, humanity’s dreams have come true. One of the main motivations of the Industrial Revolution was to supply people with the Labor Saving Devices they craved, and gazillions of dollars have been made in the process. Technological innovations have taken physical activity out of most work, transportation, and household tasks. Our homes and offices are filled with Labor Saving Devices, from the electric can opener to the computer to the car.
The extermination has taken about 200 years, but it is almost complete. Now, efforts to finally eradicate physical activity are getting a bit ridiculous. Is it so onerous to walk a quarter mile that you would pay $5000 for a Segway? Are people so committed to laziness that they will ride a bike that does the pedaling for them? Is there any longer a problem of too-much-activity that needs a solution?
What all this means is that we have a lot of work to do. Physical activity has been mainly exterminated, to catastrophic effect for our physical and mental health and medical costs. But still, people buy any gizmo that promises to squeeze the last few minutes of activity from their day. The Fitness Revolution of the 1980s did not create a culture of activity. Parents are not teaching their children to enjoy movement, dance, games, and sport as much as they need to. Appreciating new gizmos seems to take precedence.
Those of us who want to create better health through more activity continue to face big challenges. Looks like my resolution for 2011 will be to get a little better at encouraging people to enjoy being active.