A 2004 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral and Physical Activity reporting on U.S. averages for total daily activity sheds a very interesting light on what constitutes our daily energy consumption. Basically, of your 2500 calories/day, what portion are you spending where? Calculations were derived by multiplying average duration of an activity by energy expended per minute. Sleeping was by far the most calorically consuming “activity” and was left off the list, but you may be stunned to know that this nocturnal act accounts for 19 percent of our daily energy expenditure.

The top three activities behind sleeping are: driving a car (11 percent), office work/typing (9 percent), and watching TV/movie (8.6 percent). Total leisure activities (walking, sports, exercise, golf etc.) average just 5 percent of total daily energy expenditure. Americans spend 170 minutes a day watching TV/movies, and 101 minutes driving a car; nine and five times, respectively, the amount spent on sports and other exercise.

Last week I spoke with Dr. David Gordon Wilson, whose work at MIT revolves around two areas: highly efficient gas-turbine cycles and human powered vehicles. The 79-year-old professor emeritus is an avid hiker and bicyclist and cycles 6,000 miles/year. His wife, a visiting nurse in Cambridge, makes her daily rounds on her bicycle, leaving her colleagues in the dust with the number of patients she sees each day.

When I asked him why we’re so sedentary as a nation, Wilson said he believes Americans do not understand the costs of an inactive lifestyle on their pocketbook. They may understand the high price of gas but perhaps not the increased cost of healthcare resulting from that lifestyle. Instead, Wilson said the most cost efficient form of energy is our own body fat, which is a commodity that can save BOTH the cost of fuel as well as the cost of disease.

Public transportation saves fuel cost but not disease cost. A recent job transfer downtown has me cycling to work most days and on a recent ride home, I ran across another kindred spirit, Bill Gee, an executive at Cloverhill Bakery on Narragansett. Gee cycles or runs to and/or from work five times a week. He states his reasons as being part altruistic and part sheer enjoyment. Gee agrees that it clears his mind and what better transition from work to home than his jaunt through the woods near River Road?

“On one side it’s good for the environment, one less car on the road. Selfishly, I can keep in shape. If you don’t have time, at least you’re doing something. It emboldens some when they see someone else is doing it, maybe they feel they can do the same.”

Consider your options. If just 5 percent of our day is geared toward leisure, maybe commuting to work on your bike is one way you can increase that number.

Fran Scott is an exercise physiologist.

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