Monday, June 16, 2014

What is a Minimum Level of Physical Fitness?

What is the minimum level of physical fitness and how well do Americans compare to this standard?

Dmitry Orlov, author of Reinventing Collapse makes this statement:

"If they (the typical shopper walking across the parking lot from their SUV to the shopping mall or Wallie-world) suddenly had to start living like Russians (after the collapse) they would blow out there knees.  Most of them would not even try, but simply wait (to die)"
Sidebar:  I admit to having much energy around this topic.  One summer my work group was assigned a "temp" worker so extra vacations could be allocated through the summer.  This temp was 5'8" tall and according to one of my formerly obese coworkers, "Weighs 450 pounds if he weighs an ounce."

The extremely generous allowance for learning a job is three days.  Most workers learn the job in four hours and then screw-the-pooch by working half-time (splitting the work with the trainer) for the remaining 20 hours.  This guy was not capable of learning any of three jobs in the course of 20 working days.  He simply could not move fast enough to keep up with the line.  He was "let go" on the 20th day.

The net result was that my work group was denied one extra vacation slot through the prime vacation season.  I never had a chance to chat with Human Resources, but I am sure that the reason we received the large temp is because A.) we live in a litigious society and B.) He was representative (extreme, but representative) of the candidates who were applying for the job.

I am still at a loss to explain my reaction.  I was deeply offended that they put this guy on the factory floor, on MY factory floor.  He could be hurt.  Other people could have been hurt.  How can Human Resources not know that factory work is physical work.

So what is the minimum level?

I am going to throw a stake in the ground and explain my rational.

The ERJ minimum level of physical fitness is the ability to walk 12 miles in less than five hours.  Flat ground, unlimited electrolytes and food, porta-potties, no adverse weather.


Minimum is not to be confused with optimum.

The majority of calorie burn during a work-day at typical factory job is a combination of basal metabolism (35%) and walking (60%).  The calorie burn of the actual "value added" work is incidental to most factory jobs.

A walk-time of approximately 50% of the job-cycle is not good by modern standards but it is certainly not unusual.  That is, it is pretty common to walk 12 miles (four hours) during an eight hour shift or 18 miles on a 12 hour shift.

Factory jobs are tuned in to ergonomics.  That is not true of baling hay, cutting firewood, picking strawberries, digging potatoes, carrying water, hand milking cows or goats, hoeing weeds or a host of other subsistence level tasks.

Hypothesis testing

Testing Orlov's hypothesis that most (i.e., more than 50% of Americans are unfit) proves to be surprisingly difficult.  The main difficulty is "How does one collect a representative sample?" and then, "How does one test them?"

One method would be to rely on self assessment.  For example, send letters to a random sample that asks the participant the maximum distance they would be willing to walk for some non-trivial amount of money like $60 or $100.

The problems with self assessment is that it is hopelessly optimistic and the return rate for the mailing would be abysmal.

Another method is to place trained observers at a "gate" and have them categorize pedestrians into bins of 0.5 miles, 1.0 miles, 2.0 miles, 4.0 miles, 8.0 miles and more than 8.0 miles.  Two "gates" are frequently mentioned:  The Secretary of State where people must renew their driver's license and Walmart.

One issue specific to monitoring stores like Walmart is that their customer base is stratified by prime shopping time.  People working physical jobs are typically paid on Friday so most of their shopping is done Friday afternoon/evening.  Making observations during this time period would be efficient because there are many shoppers-per-hour but it would skew the results because a disproportionate share of the shoppers are already performing physical work.  In a similar way, the 24 hours after food-stamp EBT cards are refreshed would be disproportionately weighted toward those people who are either not in the work force or are part time workers.

So, what is my gut feel?

I went to my dentist today.  He is an awesome dentist and he has a waiting list of people who want to be his patients.  I assume he sees relatively few uninsured and he has a low tolerance for people who choose to be unhealthy so I believe his patient base is healthier than the general population.  He is 70 years old and is an avid tennis player.

I asked him: "What percentage of your patients do you think could walk 12 miles?"

He thought about 20 seconds.  Then he said, "40%"

That may be high for the general population because of the self-selection inherent in people who seek good oral health but it is one, defensible stake in the ground.  And yes, my dentist agrees with Orlov.

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