Health and weight are something a lot of people - especially people in suburban American where I grew up - struggle with. Obesity rates are so high that you can tell where are you - in the suburbs and not in a city - just by looking at a random sample of a dozen people.
Every time I visit family in suburban Ohio and Florida where I grew up after living for over a decade in Hong Kong, I'm amazed at how the places seem to be structurally designed to make it so people have to use incredible amounts of will power to lead a healthy life.
- Portion sizes at restaurants are massive - two to three times the size one would get at a restaurant in Hong Kong.
- Drink sizes are huge and refilled for “free” without asking - you have beg them to stop giving you more to drink.
- You have to drive to get anywhere. Roads & buildings are designed to prevent you from walking between two points that are close together.
- Everyone shops at Costco where food is sold in village-sized portions - because it's cheap and “high-quality.”
- Exercise facilities - even the public ones - require long-term membership to use.
I feel like my entire day in American suburbs is spent sitting in a car, sitting in a chair or walking at most 10 meters to get into and out of the car. I saw the effects of this growing up as I watched family members and friends struggle with weight. Luckily, as a member of the swim team, I was somewhat insulated from negative health effects.
Going back with an Apple Watch after living my entire adult life in walkable cities really puts the lifestyle difference in perspective. On days I can’t make it to the gym or to the pool to swim or play waterpolo in Hong Kong, I typically burn around 500 active calories. When I’m visiting family and friends in the suburbs, a day without intentional exercise only clocks in at 200 or fewer active calories.
I’m a strong believer in structuring your life for success. I’ve written in the past about the importance of systems vs goals and how I apply that to swimming. I think this is also important when choosing where you want to live. It’s important chose a place to live and how you eat so that you don’t have to use your will power to overcome unhealthy temptations.
I live on a hill on Hong Kong Island that I walk up and down a few times I day. This means even when I can’t “exercise”, I’m still getting exercise. I never buy snacks and keep my fridge empty so that I’m never tempted to gorge on snacks. The restaurants in my neighbor generally serve small portions and charge you money for refills. This makes it easy for to avoid overeating. I live in a city that provides world-class sports, recreation and park facilities that are reasonably priced or free and almost always open.
I surround myself with friends that are physically active and concerned about healthy behavior. They’re more likely to message me to go to the gym or the pool than to go the bar. We even spend party time exercising as you can see from the photo from last weekend’s beach waterpolo team boat party.
By structuring my life so that will power is removed from the equation, the path of least resistance is a healthy life.
What choices have you made in your life to set yourself up for success by avoiding temptation?