Technology isn’t helping America’s fitness and obesity problems

Recent fitness articles report that approximately 75% of the population is overweight or obese. This means that if you weigh what is considered normal for your age, gender and height, you are in the minority. How did this frightening statistic come about? I read a chapter in the book Spark that mentions that former African Olympic or world champions in endurance racing grew up relatively poor and had to walk or walk if they wanted to go anywhere. The irony is that most of their children are not fast runners. The difference is that the parents grew up in a culture where they walked or ran everywhere. Now that the parents are famous and wealthy, their children now go to school in a family car. Children grow up in a culture of luxury and the need to walk or run is not part of their environment.

I remember getting my first bike for my birthday. It was a single-speed ACE bike that weighed almost 20 pounds. If you had to pedal up a hill, you would stand on the pedals, pull yourself up on the handlebars, and put your entire weight on the pedals. It was a great leg strength build. To get faster, you pedal faster. Then the technology came along. First it was a three-speed bike, which made it easier to find a gear to pedal up the hills. Then 10 speed bikes appeared and there weren’t many instances where you had to get up to pedal. Eventually, bikes with gear ratios of 12 to 20 gears arrived. While this may seem like a lot to bike enthusiasts, it is misleading to the average rider. The gears are like a stick-driven car. You need to be in the right gear and be able to shift into another gear. The same applies to the gears of the bicycle. The gears are there for different road conditions. Depending on whether the road is flat, downhill, slightly uphill, steeply uphill or flat over a long distance, the driver has to shift into the right gear. Many of today’s younger drivers can’t drive a shift car. If you’re having a hard time shifting a three or four speed stick in a car, you can imagine how confusing a 10 speed bike is for you. Some of the cyclists I’ve seen find a gear and stay there for the duration of the ride. Having 10 gears on a bike is a nice addition, but it seems too many riders only use two gears.

My son grew up in a time when skateboarding was all the rage. It was a good exercise as you had to push off with one leg to gain speed. The constant pressing and bending of the legs was a great exercise. As skill levels increased and jumping in the air with the board engaged most of the body in some way. You didn’t see many overweight skaters in the skate parks.

In recent years, technology has improved transportation on bicycles, scooters and skateboards. Sitting on my porch on nice evenings, I see electric skateboarders going up the slight incline as fast as a car. Not much practice standing on a skateboard and going up a street at high speed. It’s reminiscent of Marty McFly and his floating skateboard in the movie Back to the Future.

The same applies to the now popular e-scooters. They can “rent” a scooter to ride back to their apartment or house, leave it there, and ride back to school or work the next morning. It amazes me how fast these scooters can go down the street.

The promotion of electric bicycles is also currently at its peak. I see bikes of different sizes going down a street without pedaling. Sitting in the saddle, the rider is about the only exercise when having to turn the handlebars to go around a corner. There are electric bikes for kids, mountain bikes, and road bikes for those ancient riders who used cycling as a good form of exercise.

This modern way of traveling from young age groups to older population groups is one reason that the majority of the population is overweight and obese. It starts at a young age and continues into adulthood. The method of walking, running or kicking a scooter, skateboard or bike is now a thing of the past. I remember walking a few miles to go to the cinema in town. Then, when the little kid reached the age of 16 or 17 and could now get a driver’s license, it was necessary to drive to this place, which was over two blocks away. It now became unpopular to walk or run to get anywhere.

Technology is good for a lot of things, but the corollary is that calories aren’t burned in the training arena and gaining weight isn’t a healthy outcome. The older means of travel had some advantages.


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