Do This, Not That: Park at the far end of the lot and walk

It’s one of those chestnuts offered by just about every basic fitness hit list: When you go to the store, don’t spend 15 minutes circling like a vulture waiting for a spot to open close to the door, park at the far end of the lot and walk. Everyone, from Dr. Don Colbert in his “The Seven Pillars of Health” to the
New York State Department of Health says it’s a good idea.

Usually, this gem is wedged between “Take the stairs, not the elevator” and “Walk 30 minutes at lunch” on the exercise to-do list. And usually, there’s little supporting evidence about why this is a good thing. You should just do it. Here, to bolster the case for parking in the nether regions of your mall parking lot, is some supporting evidence.

How much of a difference will it really make? I’ve wondered that myself. So I went to the local Target with my trusty pedometer to conduct some field research. First, I sought out the closest open spot to the front door, parked, and set my odometer and walked to the door: 26 steps. Then I got in the car, drove to the far end of the lot where there were spaces aplenty, parked, walked to the front door: 164 steps. Since this would be a roundtrip, that’s 328 steps. That right there is more than 3 percent of your government-recommended total of 10,000 steps per day.

What’s the bottom line (meaning for my bottom)? For some of you, I realize, exercise boils down to one thing: How much weight can I lose? Let’s do some quick math. According to a poll of 3,000 women conducted by GE Money, those 3,000 women made, on average, 301 shopping trips per year. Let’s say that on every one of those trips you parked at the far end of the lot, 164 steps from the front door. That’s 328 steps, 301 times in the course of a year. Assuming you don’t stop at the Target snack bar and snarf a stuffed pretzel and a Coke, that’s 98,728 steps in a year. Using the oft-sited 2,000-steps-per-mile figure, that would be 49.364 miles (let’s just go with 50). And let’s say you’re walking at a fairly brisk 4 mile-per-hour pace (and, for calorie calculator sake, let’s say you weigh 160 pounds): You’d burn 363.6 calories in an hour. In the time it would take you to cover 50 miles (about 12 1/2 hours), you would burn 4,545 calories. Since you need to burn 3,500 calories to lose a pound, you would lose about 1.3 pounds a year simply by parking a the far end of the lot. Granted, 1.3 pounds isn’t a lot, but it’s 1.3 pounds more than you’d burn loitering near the front door for a space.

Besides, there are other reasons to park far from the front door in a crazy shopping center parking lot … .

Another bottom line Numbers on how many accidents occur in parking lots are hard to come by because parking lots typically are private property and public law enforcement agencies have no jurisdiction. Typically, the parties involved exchange insurance information and let the insurers figure out who’s to blame. But you can bet the number of parking lot fender benders is high, especially if you drive an econobox and find yourself backing out between two SUVs or minivans with tinted windows. You’re driving blind, basically. A number that is clear, though, is the cost of fixing fender benders. In a 2008 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, some of the 20 small cars tested sustained more than $4,000 in damage from impacts ranging from 3 mph to 6 mph. Even the best performer, the Ford Focus, sustained $600 in damage. Park away from the bumper-car action and you’ll reduce your chances of a costly fender bender. And don’t forget those door dings from inconsiderate neighbors, dings that often aren’t worth the time — or expense — to fix.

Caution! Of course while your car may be safer at the far end of the lot, you’ll still have to negotiate the craziness of the lot. According to the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration, 221 deaths and 14,000 injuries occur annually in “nontraffic backover crashes.”
A few tips for not becoming a backover statistics, from personal experience and from the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center:

  • On your approach to the more crowded portion of the lot near the front door, pay attention to people getting into cars. Those cars will soon be pulling out.
  • Watch for back-up lights. When they go on, you should go on red alert, either by stopping or maneuvering to a spot where you’re pretty sure the car isn’t going.
  • Ditto the above for the sound of an engine coming to life (beware the silent-running Prius)
  • Even at crosswalks, where you have the right of way, do not assume you have the right of way. On foot, you’re no match for a minivan on a mission.
  • When dealing with cars, do everything you can to make eye contact with the driver. It’s not that they’re less likely to mow you down because you’ve made a personal connection; Rather, it’s the best way to assure that they’ve seen you and know you’re there.
  • Make yourself as visible as possible. Don’t walk in the center of the lane, but do walk a foot or two out from parked vehicles to enhance you’re visibility.
  • Do not — do NOT — use your cell phone while walking in the lot.
  • Do not — do NOT — plug into your iPod while walking in the lot.
  • If you’re with children, hold their hand. Children and older people are more susceptible to getting hit in parking lots, according to the NHTSA. Even if they’re older and claim embarrassment, hold their hand.

Besides, isn’t embarrassing your kids a key part of parenting?

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