The Cardus Daily

Driving to the gym

Peter Stockland  |  May 17, 2011  |  Cities, Health

My wife has a gift for making me understand my own ridiculousness. She did it again this morning when I fussed because I couldn’t find parking close enough to our gym.
Yes, parking. Yes, we drive to exercise. Ridiculous, if not properly oxymoronic, in itself.

Does it help to say we live 14 kilometres from the club we use? Probably not since we could, if we chose, take the bike path half a block away and follow it the whole distance. Or find a closer gym.

The problem is that we love the one to which we belong, and there is never any problem finding parking at 6:20 a.m. That is, as long as “never” doesn’t include today, when the closest spot seemed far, far away. And it was raining. A bit.

“You’re going for a run,” my wife said in response to my exhalation of, shall we say, words unheard in Christian liturgy. “You can’t walk four blocks? Think of it as a warm up.”

Actually, it made me think about how ridiculous I sound when I whine, and how ridiculously easily the whining makes me forget how lucky I am. On something as simple as where to exercise, I am privileged to have a multitude of choices for each of the many options available.

It’s a privilege with significant consequences, as writer Lisa Rochon reveals with an excellent piece in today’s Globe and Mail on the linkages between urban structures, personal choices, and bodily health.

Where you live in a city can be a reliable predictor for type 2 diabetes, Rochon writes, if the very structure of the neighbourhood discourages basic physical activity such as strolling to the store or the movies or just to see what’s going on.

“In the past 10 years, the number of New Yorkers with diabetes has increased by 250 per cent. Meanwhile, in the beautiful neighborhoods of Manhattan, the rate of diabetes is six times lower.”

Personal wealth has clear links with health, of course, but so, it turns out, does whether you live in urban edge zones areas dominated and defined by high-rise apartment buildings. “A walk through a bleak or potentially dangerous neighborhood is hardly inspiring, especially if the only nearby landmark is a highway,” Rochon says. “We used to call (such neighbourhoods) ugly but now social geographers and medical practitioners label the disconnected sections of the city ‘obesogenic’, meaning environments that promote obesity.”

I often kvetch that the most frightening words in any newspaper article are “first of a series” because they usually mean one middling good piece stretched over days, largely to satisfy reportorial egos and writerly fantasies.

Rochon’s story, by contrast, is a fine contribution to a creditable package the Globe is doing on how urban life shapes us. It breaks free from the typical mass of media nonsense, most of which amounts to mere moaning about inconveniences, and seeks to promote genuine understanding of who and what we are.



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