While I was in New York last month for the Club Industry East show, I was struck by how different my life is from the New Yorkers that hurriedly filed past me on the street. I grew up in Topeka, KS, a town of 120,000 where driving to school, church, the grocery store and the doctor's office was a way of life. The only time I did much walking was when I went to the city pool and the Kwik Shop for candy in the summer. I live in the “big” city now — Kansas City, MO, with a metrowide population of 1 million. Walking to work or the store here is generally considered unusual. We are dependent upon our cars, and that's exacerbated by an inadequate public transportation system and our choices to live in suburbia.
However, in New York, I noticed how taking the subway and walking was a way of life for many people. Even if they lived in suburbia (is Jersey suburbia?), they took the ferry, subway or bus into Manhattan to work. And from their last stop, they usually walked at least a block or two to their final destination. Not to mention that at lunch, the streets swelled again with workers walking to nearby restaurants (we jump in our cars and drive to lunch). So despite most of them having desk jobs, their workday involved more movement than most office workers in my part of the world.
I guess this observation just drove home the fact that our car-dependent, technology-driven society has led many of us to a cushy but dangerously inactive lifestyle. And that's why when I looked around at the attendees at the Club Industry East show, I realized how fortunate these people were to work in a field where their focus was fitness all day every day. Unfortunately, few people are lucky enough to have jobs that surround them with treadmills, free weights, lap pools and group exercise classes all day. Instead, they have to carve out a little piece of their day to fit in a trip to the gym.
But change could be on the way for your desk-sitting members and potential members. After a decade of research on how humans expend energy, Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic recently created an office of the future where employees can work at a vertical desk while walking on a treadmill or pedaling a stationary bike. They also can hold meetings while walking on an indoor track rather than sitting in a conference room. Levine's research showed that people could increase their caloric burn rates by integrating more movement into their daily regime. Walk-working from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. burned 800 extra calories a day, his research found. Despite the health benefits, I don't think that this concept will go over well in most companies today (the expense of purchasing treadmills for everyone could be cost prohibitive), but I do hope this extreme example will lead more companies to consider small steps, such as incorporating a walking track on one floor of their building or encouraging people to walk outside for small group meetings, especially since another recent study found that workers who exercise during the day are more productive.
Until the day comes when walking to work becomes more common everywhere and taking a hike means holding a meeting rather than getting fired, you as fitness professionals can offer your members suggestions about how to fit more movement into their work day — perhaps getting their co-workers to join them. And even if that's all the further they can pull their co-workers into the world of exercise, you'll at least have played a hand in moving them further than they would have gone without you.