I have lived in three states during my life: Arkansas, New York, and now Montana. Talk about variety. In the meantime I’ve traveled to a lot of places in between. I like to think of myself as a “people watcher” (personal trainers have to pay attention to people); and when I moved to NYC, I noticed that, in general, people seemed to be leaner than they were in the south. Statistics back this up. Recently, when I moved to Montana, I was equally impressed by the overall “fit” look of the majority of the population. Again, this is not what I observe when I’m home in the south or traveling through the midwest—in those places, lean or fit looking people tend to be the exception, not the norm. I love statistics, so I’m going to present some statistics regarding obesity rates in our state and country, and draw a simple conclusion. Keep in mind, many factors contribute to a person’s weight/BMI, but again, I am going to focus on one correlation during this post: walking and/or physical activity levels as they relate to obesity.
Following are some obesity rates for select populations (with year data was taken). Obesity is generally defined as a BMI of 30 or greater. You will find a BMI calculator at the bottom of this post if you want to calculate your BMI.
- Arkansas 30.9% (2011—7th most obese state)
- National Average 26.1% (2008)
- Montana 24.6% (2011—10th least obese (not bad, relatively))
- New York City 21.5%
- Colorado 20.7% (2011–Least obese state)
- Gallatin County, Montana 17.4% (2009–least obese county in Montana)
- Amish people ~4.0% (2008)
First, it is impressive that Montana has eight counties that are under 22%, led by Gallatin County, which is one of the leanest in the nation (Boulder County, Colorado is #1 at 12%.) The eight counties in Montana under 22% are: Flathead, Gallatin, Jefferson, Missoula, Musselshell, Park, Ravalli, and Sweet Grass (Data from CDC, 2009). Second, did you notice that I included the Amish? And no, that 4% is not a typo—obesity is almost non-existent in the Amish population. So, what might Montana, New York City, Boulder County, and the Amish have in common that may contribute to lower obesity rates than the rest of the nation? It could be that one of the simplest ways to better health may be something that is literally right under our feet: walking.
Ten thousand (10,000) steps a day seems to be the consensus “magic number” that is recommended a person walks each day. Most Americans get around half this number due to lifestyle. On the other hand, many people in New York City, and especially in Manhattan, do not have cars—they rely on public transportation. I was one of those people for four years. When you have to ride the subway, it doesn’t always drop you off right at your doorstep, so you end up hiking—a lot. Also, on some days when the weather was nice, it was actually faster just to walk somewhere if it was within around a mile—that’s about 2000 steps for most people. Also, I was often walking with stuff, like groceries. Milk can get heavy after several blocks!
In places like Gallatin County and Boulder County, as well as all over Montana, many people tend to have an active lifestyle due to the accessibility of the outdoors. Hiking is very popular in these places (in addition to winter sports like snowshoeing and X-Country Skiing). It should come as no surprise that increased activity levels correlate very closely to low obesity rates.
And then there are the Amish. It is estimated that the Amish (who do not rely on machines like cars), take around 18,000 steps a day! Now, I am not suggesting that we all go out and sell our vehicles in favor of a horse and buggy, but there are certainly many strategies for us to increase the number of steps we take in a day. The evidence is pretty convincing—the more steps we take per day, the closer we are to our ideal weight.
That’s enough information to chew on for today (no pun intended). Be thinking about strategies to get more steps in, or increase your daily activity level. It could be something as simple as taking the stairs versus the elevator, or parking a little farther away from the entrance to the grocery store. Also, getting out of your chair at work for a 10-15 minute walking break has big benefits for both body and mind. Small, simple lifestyle changes like these accumulate to make a big difference!
Here is a simple BMI calculator from the Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bmi-calculator/NU00597
or, if you prefer to do the math, the calculation for BMI is: [Weight (lbs.)/Height (Inches) X Height (Inches)] X 703 = BMI
Also, if you want to take a look at CDC statistics on obesity, physical activity levels, and diabetes by State and County, check out this link: http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/DDT_STRS2/CountyPrevalenceData.aspx?mode=OBS