Want to Get Americans Moving? Learn from Subway Stations
According to the CDC, 80% of Americans are not meeting recommended minimum exercise guidelines. When I hear that some people just aren’t willing to do it or simply can’t do it, I disagree. I see an incredibly wide variety of people running, and running very fast, every day. I see people running in suits, in high heels and in 95 degree heat. Not just fit looking, young people, but people of all ages and sizes. Where is this taking place? The gym? The local track? No, I see this every day at a subway station.
My commute to work includes a transfer at Downtown Crossing, one of the busiest subway stops in Boston. This is not only a central hub in Boston’s subway system, but a place where I’m guessing many Bostonians get their most vigorous exercise of the day.
If you’ve been in a busy train station or airport where people are transferring, you’ve seen this before. Here’s the scenario. I arrive at Downtown Crossing. Over the loud speaker I can hear that my next train is just arriving. Along with everyone around me of all shapes, sizes and ages, I immediately start running as fast as possible to make that train. Some of us make it and others don’t, but everyone is left huffing and puffing. What motivates us to wear ourselves out like this?
For that outburst of energy, I have the chance of avoiding a 5 minute wait for the next train (Boston people are saying "yeah right, it's 10 minutes", but rush hour is a little quicker). Those 5 minutes are so important that my fellow commuters and I will even break out in a full sprint while wearing a suit during the hottest days of August. It illustrates the power of immediate and time sensitive rewards. Those 5 minutes of life are up for grabs right now and procrastination is not an option.
Watching this take place day after day, I’m convinced that this concept can be used to encourage regular physical activity. After all, even if every person in this country heard about a recent study showing that consistent exercise increases life expectancy at least 4 years (not to mention the other benefits), it probably would not make a material difference. I can start on that tomorrow – it’s not an immediate priority. But avoiding those 5 minutes of wait time? Sign me up.