Are Americans Stuck to their Cubicles?- page 2 | Science | Smithsonian
A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that most Americans engage in moderate activity less than three times a week. (moodboard / Corbis)

Are Americans Stuck to their Cubicles?

After a debilitating bicycle accident kept her inactive, Mary Collins toured the country studying Americans’ sedentary lifestyle

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(Continued from page 1)

How can we help the workers in that factory?
Places like Utz make sure their workers rotate jobs so the same person doesn’t do the same thing all day. To tell you the truth, the assembly line workers [are better off] than the desk workers. The desk workers relentlessly sit at their desk and type all day long. The average desk worker has far less variety of movement. A desk worker has a worst-case scenario. The repetition is even more intense.

Why have our athletes gotten so much more impressive over the years as the average American lags farther behind?
This stems out of the idea that exercise is something you choose to do—it’s somehow remote from our sense of self. [Professional athletes] are performers and entertainers now, separate from us, while the average person is less and less connected to physical life. Back when everyone was a farmer the divide between the farmer and the athlete really wasn’t that great. But now the divide between the overweight guy watching a football game and the star receiver playing the game is so tremendous that you’d think we were two different species.

Seven years after your bike accident, do you now enjoy a regular flow of physical movement?
I can’t play full court basketball anymore, which is probably a good thing, because I’m almost 49 and I probably would have blown out a knee or something. I try now to think about my vitality rather than fitness. I try to be a person who integrates levels of movements into my day that add energy to my life, that don’t wear my body down, that don’t wear me down, and yet they add to my strength. I still have slots for more rigorous activity every week—I’ll go for a pretty rigorous swim twice a week for 40 minutes, or I’ll run about a mile on a soft track and then go shoot some baskets for a total of about an hour—but those three assigned exercise slots are different from my movement agenda. At work I take the stairs—six or seven flights—about four times a day. I live in a very walk-able community. I walk to the library, walk to the movies, walk to the grocery store.

How will future generations approach exercise?
We’re in this real transition generation. My daughter, who is 17, is in that generation. She is the first person in my family to never know [a relative] who ever had a physical life. My grandfather worked in a lumberyard and was a farmer. He was a very physical guy. I had this model within a generation. My daughter lacks that. There is no model.

Some epidemiologists speculate that the next generation may have a shorter average life expectancy?
All the advances in medicine have stopped outdistancing lifestyle problems. But this generation is good at big-picture issues. When they see this as a larger social, cultural problem, not a sports and exercise problem, they’ll take it on and make it part of the agenda of the future.

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About Abigail Tucker

A frequent contributor to Smithsonian, Abigail Tucker is writing a book about the house cat.

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