Cars are absolutely dominating modern Australian society. Given the choice between a 2 minute drive and a 15 minute walk/8min run to buy the milk, the majority of people will choose the 2 minute drive.
The sad fact of the matter is that, by the time you have gathered the car keys, locked up the house, walked to the car, connected up your seat-belt (and often that of your children), driven to the shop, found a park, locked the car, walked in the shop, bought the milk, then repeated everything in reverse to travel back home, it will have taken you about the same amount of time to walk there. It would have taken you even less time if you ran or rode to the shop.
14% of Chinese households acquired a car between 1989 and 1997. That figure has now more than doubled, with 30% of households now having a car. Men who acquired a car in China gained 10kg in weight in the first 12 months and doubled their risk of obesity. This huge purchasing of cars obviously happened within the same generation. Most Australian households have a car in 2016, with our current obesity /overweight levels far outweighing that of China. Many Australians now belong to 3rd or 4th generation “car families”.
If you travel to several Asian or African countries, you will notice a huge proportion of the population still walk or ride bikes as their main mode of transport. This is obviously not the case in some of the more developed cities such as Bangkok or Hong Kong. You will also notice that the average Asian or African person is still in decent shape. There aren’t that many overweight Asians or Africans walking around in their homelands, especially in the more underdeveloped rural areas.
Public transport is obviously a popular mode of transport in Australia. Many people label traveling by public transport as being “inconvenient” as they must walk to get to the train station, or possibly have to walk to get from the train station to the bus stop.
What can we do?
If only these people could shift their line of thinking in a more positive direction and see the walking to bus stops, train stations, shops, friends’ places, parks, etc. as a good opportunity for exercise. Two daily, brisk 30 minute walks to/from the train station each day (about 3km each way), for example, is quite a decent amount of exercise. Or that could be two 15 minute runs. Five days a week that is weekly mileage of 30km, simply travelling.
Shopping Centre car parks are a classic example of Australian’s mentality towards car use.
Let’s say you were planning on shopping in a major shopping mall. You knew that this shopping mall had a 7-level car park on site. Where would you plan to park as you were approaching this shopping mall. Most people would aim straight for the nearest entrance to this car park and try to park in the car space nearest to the shop entrance that they would wish to go to first. If there were no parks on this level, many people would wait in their stationery car whilst it was idling, hoping for another customer to leave the car park and open a space for them. This would ensure that they would only have to walk the shortest possible distance to reach their shopping destination.
Similar scenarios can be seen in main streets of suburbs and country towns all around Australia. People will desperately try to find a car park immediately in front of the shop, bank, etc that they’re going to, often double parking, parking other cars in or illegally parking to save themselves a walk, even if it’s only a 50 metre walk!
What can we do?
If going to a shopping mall with a multi level car park, why not drive straight to the upper levels where you know that you’ll be able: a) find a park very quickly, b) get some exercise by walking down some stairs or ramp ways to reach your shopping destinations
If going to a main street of a suburb or country town, why not avoid taking your car down the main street and parking one, two or three blocks away so that you know that you’ll be able: a) find a park very quickly, b) actually get some exercise by walking or running a couple of blocks to reach your shopping destination.
If you have groceries to buy and you feel that it would be too tough to carry eight or ten bags over a reasonable distance, remember that shopping trolleys are well designed to be pushed along footpaths. You’ll get the extra exercise in by returning the shopping trolley to the supermarket then walking back to the car. It’s amazing how many people live within walking distance of their nearest supermarket and could walk to the supermarket, buy their groceries, wheel them back home using the shopping trolley, walk back to the supermarket to return the trolley, then walk or run back home again.
If your local supermarket doesn’t allow customers to leave the shopping area premises with a shopping trolley, you can buy shopping trolleys from department stores and other specialty stores.
If you can’t find a shopping trolley big enough to fit in all your groceries, then I suggest you make more frequent trips to the supermarket to buy fewer groceries at any one visit. Thus, you’ll pack in even more walking/running kilometers into your legs.
Are you worried about being uncomfortable walking or running in your latest fashion accessories? Your shoes, pants, jacket, suit, dress, frock or shirt too uncomfortable for fast walking or running. Why not shop wearing running apparel or at least some sports apparel that is relatively comfortable for walking/running?
Sydney marathoner Philip Balnave is renowned for running fast half marathons and half marathons wearing sandals. His running training is as unconventional as his footwear in races. A lot of his training is done in his sandals when he is “doing the rounds’. It is a common sight in Sydney’s east to see Philip running at 5.00 pace or faster with a couple of shopping bags in each hand, whilst wearing sandals. Philip has said that much of his running fitness has been gained from doing this incidental running several times a day. This style of training has enabled him to finish top ten in big races like the Canberra Marathon.
The shopping/car mentality also applies to driving trips to the beach and entertainment venues. Councils who are responsible for most of Sydney’s beaches have, in recent times, installed parking meters on streets close to the beaches. The parking meters are in car parks and on streets up to about 400m from the beaches.
Fees in Sydney are now as hefty as $7.00 per hour to park close to a beach. Let’s say a family drove from the western suburbs to a city beach. This family would have to pay around $12 for the expressway tolls, about $10 for petrol and around $20 for parking. That’s over $40 just to take the car to the beach. Add other costs such as buying food and drinks (unless you take a packed lunch) and a day to the beach is very expensive for the average Aussie family.
In Melbourne, this past weekend, it was quite hot. Beach weather! People travelling from inland suburbs drove to get to Edithvale, a beachside suburb. Many people! The result, a traffic jam in the final 2km along Edithvale Rd before the beach. People were waiting in this traffic jam for up to 30 minutes as they moved an average of 4km/h in their car, hoping and waiting to find a car park as close to the beach as possible. How many people opted to pull off the road and park on a side street 1km or 1.5km from the beach? Maybe one or two.
What can we do?
Park your car outside the parking meter zone, a bit further away from the beach. Very rarely are these parking meters positioned more than 400m from the beach. You’ll have to walk or run a half a kilometer or so, maybe even 3km, but it’ll be good for you and save you a lot of money. That extra effort of carrying that surfboard, beach umbrella, esky or pushing the pram will also be good for you. Work up a sweat and enjoy your swim even more!
Ten years ago, I went on a holiday to an Australian island resort, Hamilton Island. I was amazed to see hundreds of motorized golf carts zooming all around the island. You could hire these carts for a hefty daily or weekly rate. Most residents who live on the island owned a cart and even had special cart garages and carports built into their homes.
The sad fact is that it is a relatively small island and that people were using these carts to travel distances as short as 200m to reach the beach, pub or shop. Very rarely would people travel further than 1km in these carts. Have we forgotten what walking, running and bike riding is?
I find it just as sad to see so many people using motorized golf carts whilst playing golf. Ok I understand that some people have genuine illnesses or disabilities and need these carts to enjoy their sport, but for the majority? What is the matter with walking or running?