The thing about exercise is it’s so ... exercisey. Every time I work out — and by “work out” I mean oversleep (again, whoops!) and do a bunch of frantic sit-ups and push-ups and maybe a downward-facing dog and then a quick, cartilage-grinding dash around the neighborhood — I can’t help but think, “You know, I wouldn’t need this absurd ritual if I were an old-school hunter-gatherer, compelled to roam the danger-fraught earthscape for nuts and berries while also avoiding saber-toothed tigers.” When you’re getting chased by tigers, the pounds just melt away naturally. Needing to exercise is a symptom of the whole world having a desk job.
Which is hardly anyone’s fault. Let me state for the record: Exercise — it’s great! My point is that the formal institution of exercise — let’s call it Fitness, Inc. — with its gyms, fads, diets, books, apps, gurus, contests and contraptions, has sunk a taproot into our peculiarly human penchant to schizophrenically compartmentalize our lives: This is desk job, this is (huff! puff! pant!) exercise. That arrangement, I fear, can distract us from the more challenging and less glamorous dialogue about creating a healthier community wherein we consider active lifestyles literally at ground level: That is, by creating a more walkable community. This isn’t about guiltily torching the calories from last night’s bucket of buffalo wings on The Body Inquisitor at your local gymporium. It’s about a brisk ritual stroll to your neighborhood park to meander meaningfully with the dog and tykes. Call it the great(ish) outdoors.
[HEAR MORE: Can Las Vegas become a walkable city on “KNPR’s State of Nevada.”]
According to countless studies, walkable communities are healthier, safer and more economically prosperous. Sure, tent-poling our town with all-in-one urban shopping experience megaplexes is, arguably, a baby-step in the right direction, but I’m watching other projects take shape in the valley with much more satisfaction, such as Clark County’s trails project that’s transforming the Las Vegas Wash into an urban nature walk right in our own backyard (clarkcountynv.gov, search “trails”). Even more ambitious is the Outside Las Vegas Foundation’s mission to string together the valley’s natural headliners, from Red Rock to Lake Mead and Sloan Canyon to the proposed Ice Age National Monument, into a grand loop of more than 100 miles called the Vegas Valley Rim Trail (see outsidelasvegas.org).
They’re two admirable projects — and their benefits go well beyond the fuzzy, feelgood variety of being, you know, somehow kinda good for the good of the community in some way. They’re also part of a different, happier kind of trickle-down economics in which public investment in our shared spaces pays off. According to a recent study by the Outdoor Industry Association, spending on outdoor recreation is “an overlooked economic giant,” generating $646 billion annually — compare that to $428 billion spent annually on “gasoline and other fuels.” In Nevada alone, we spend $14.9 billion a year on outdoors activity, which generates $1 billion in state and local taxes. Leisure, it turns out, does a lot of heavy lifting.
This is welcome news, especially given the constant chorus about the need to give our state economy a few more stool legs to stand on — a chorus rising predictably anew now that the Legislature’s back in session. Can I get a sponsor for my proposed resolution requiring lawmakers to walk to the legislative chambers? A little circulation will do us all some good.
Hey, here’s a chance for you to better enjoy your own great outdoors (also known as your yard): Join us 9:30 a.m. March 23 at Plant World Nursery (5301 W. Charleston Blvd., 878-9485, plantworldnursery.com). We’ll be chatting with horticulturist and KNPR’s “Desert Bloom” commentator Norm Schilling, who’ll dish on spring gardening, pruning tips and his favorite plants. Just bring your toughest gardening questions — the coffee’s on us.