When Seema Shrikhande goes to work, she drives. When she takes her son to school, they drive. And when she goes shopping, to the bank or to visit friends, she gets into her car, buckles up and hits the road.
Driving is a way of life for Americans but researchers say the national habit of driving everywhere is bad for health.
The more you drive, the less you walk. Walking provides exercise without really trying.
Ideally, people should take 10,000 steps a day to maintain wellness, according to James Hill, professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado.
But for those who only walk from their home to the car and from their car to an office and back again, that figure can sink to only 1,000 steps.
A car culture forces people to make time to exercise and driving long distances reduces the time available to work out.
“If it (Atlanta) was a city where I walked more I would automatically get a lot of the exercise I need. Now I have to … schedule it into my life. Sometimes it’s very difficult because I’m busy,” said Shrikhande, a professor of communications at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta.
Obesity and heart disease are two of many problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle.
Car dependence makes it harder to get the 75 minutes of intense weekly exercise or the 150 minutes of moderate exercise the government recommends, said Dr. Dianna Densmore of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lawrence Frank of the University of British Columbia has even quantified the link between the distance people drive each day and their body weight.
“Every additional 30 minutes spent in a car each day translates into a 3 percent greater chance of being obese,” he said. “People who live in neighborhoods with a mix of shops and businesses within easy walking distance are 7 percent less likely to be obese.”