Review: American Idle: A Journey Through Our Sedentary Culture

I just finished reading American Idle: A Journey Through Our Sedentary Culture, which has been on my list since I heard author Mary Collins speak at the Pro Walk/Pro Bike conference in September.  Reading a book about our sedentary lifestyles while sitting or lying on the couch struck me as a bit ironic, I must say.  Fortunately, at 168 pages, it’s a fairly short read, and I was not reading it in place of being physically active.

In researching the book, Collins traveled across the country, learning about various human movement patterns throughout history, and how it is that through the generations, we exchanged a very active lifestyle for a very sedentary lifestyle.

In addition to the obvious physical consequences of our sedentary lives (obesity and chronic disease), Collins explores the social, psychological, and cognitive consequences, as well as some not so obvious physical consequences (e.g., the loss of grace in our movements when we do move) of our inactivity.

Collins advocates for many of the things I hold dear: walkable/bikeable streets and community design that allows and encourages active transportation, which will only come about by collective will and government policies that recognize the dire need for these changes and make them a priority and a requirement in all sectors.

Like the Pro Walk/Pro Bike conference itself, reading American Idle stirred up a mixed batch of emotions for me.  On the one hand, I am working to promote active living, using many of the best practices outlined in the book.  On the other hand, in order to do this work, I significantly increased my sedentary behavior by trading a bikeable job for one that, for all intents and purposes, is accessible only by car.  I struggle with this contradiction on a daily basis, and the taste of warm weather and prime biking days only makes it harder.

Back to the book . . . . Recommended reading?  Yes.  I consider myself pretty knowledgeable in this area, yet Collins provided some new food for thought.

At my request, the Saint Louis Public Library now has a copy of American Idle, so if you’re local, you can check it out there 🙂

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