Passive exercise

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I’ve been meaning to write a short piece on what I term “passive exercise” — where you opt to take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator, walk to the milko[1. That’s the corner store for you yanks. Milko is hort for Milk Bar, in the same way Servo is short for service station (gas staion), and Stevo, Robbo, and Davo, are short for Steven, Robert, and David.] instead of drive, ride a bike to work, etc. Little things that we can do every day to increase our physical activity and our wellbeing. The best part of passively exercising is you don’t need to set aside exercise time like you would for the gym; passive exercise is done during your normal everyday activities. Kind of like getting free exercise!

I roll like this as often as I can. In Kuala Lumpur, we have bazillions of shopping malls, with even more elevators and escalators. Where there’s a stair alternative, I’ll use it. I’ll walk 30–40 minutes to get somewhere instead of getting a taxi or driving. I feel I need to since I don’t ride my bike to work anymore like I did in Melbourne. Engaging in passive exercise might have insignificant health benefits — and maybe it does — but I feel every little bit helps.

Now I have an added reason to write about it, because I’m not the only one thinking this way. On a recent morning, while Kelly was in Thailand, I settled back into bed with my (nine month old but already outdated) iPad and a cup of coffee to read the archives of Fast Company’s design blog, It’s the first time I’ve really looked into this site and I must say, it’s fantastic! Highly recommended for design inspiration. Anyway, a few pages in I found an article about Active Design:

Active Design can be seen in the guidelines recently released by New York City, which addresses obesity and obesity-related diseases by encouraging physical activity through the design of our environment.

Wow! Passive exercise; on steroids! In a nutshell, designing buildings, walkways, and other public and urban areas to entice people to walk and take the stairs. How good is that? Maybe it does have more than an insignificant benefit afterall.

You might be thinking: Isn’t that taking things a bit far; making everyone walk and climbs stairs — potentially against their will? Maybe, but there are two things: firstly, it’s not making anyone do anything. The easier options are still available to use. It’s more about enticing people by making a feature of staircases instead of hiding them; making the walk through a street sensorially stimulating.


Today, obesity is poised to overtake tobacco as the leading preventable cause of death in America. More than a third of all Americans are obese and an additional third, overweight. Total U.S. health care costs attributable to obesity are expected reach $860 to $960 billion by 2030.

So, no. I don’t think it’s taking things too far. I think Active Design being part of the way we build things is a great first step to helping overcome growing obesity in the western world (I say that with a semi-straight face after having banana pancakes for breakfast, and a homegrown 2×2 burger for dinner that day…)

I hope to see this sort of thinking manifest itself in Australia. And soon. Maybe it’s already begun: the Victorian government have been slowly but steadily upgrading bike paths, lanes, parking, and other facilities all over Victoria, encouraging more and more people to ride instead of drive for their morning commute. You don’t need to wait for Active Design to manifest — the vibrance of Melbourne’s CBD and coffee shops could be enough to get you off the tram earlier and walking the last few blocks to work.

Have a read; it’s a great article that resonates deeply with me.

On a related note, how cool is this?