I don’t hate cars. I really don’t. Some of my best friends have cars. I even borrow my dad’s car from time to time, when I need to get somewhere that I can’t get to by public transit, bike, or on foot. But for me, owning a car downtown doesn’t make a ton of sense — I regularly pass two hundred thousand dollar cars on my Bixi bike, which costs a hundred bucks a year in membership fees. I’m not a math wizard, but owning that fancy car doesn’t make a lot of financial sense and certainly wouldn’t get me from A to B faster during rush hour. So who cares if I can’t show off my wheels to friends and strangers alike?
All those arguments aside, car culture also can breed lifelong habits. Let me explain by way of example: My friend Patrik lives downtown, owns a house, but chose not to buy a car. So most of the time, his two kids (7 and 9) walk, bike, or take public transit. No big deal. According to Patrik, when they go away on holiday, the kids happily walk around 8 hours a day – no whining. No meltdowns. Compare that to another dad I know who drives his kids everywhere. Guess what? The kids don’t walk anywhere and complain after a few short minutes, “how much further ‘til we get there?”
When I was still a wee thing, my parents were already taking me and my sisters hiking, camping, and out for endless amounts of playtime in the park. Those are my memories of early childhood. By age six, my dad and I had a regular routine of going to the YMCA on weekends to workout. It was great bonding time, and my father became a role-model for active living. Sure, I watched my fair share of TV growing up, but I loved playing outside, and I still do. When you have an active lifestyle at an early age, then exercise isn’t this thing that gets in the way of your life; it’s part of the fabric of your everyday — the thing that relaxes you, grounds you, makes you feel more you.
Last week I ran into another friend who’s taking some time off with his family to hang out and ride bikes in the Quebec countryside. He himself didn’t grow up with physical activity as part of his home life, and he told me that the fitness thing doesn’t really come naturally to him and that it takes mental effort to motivate to get out there.
To me, physical activity and an appreciation for the outdoors is like a long term investment for you and, if you have them, your kids. Start young, and the compound interest will benefit you — and them — for a lifetime — in terms of health, mental wellness, and even productivity. I’d say that’s about as valuable as any education fund you can invest in.