Published 2008-07-09

I remember an ad for outdoorsy-type shoes (by Nike?) from some years ago (1995?) that claimed “Americans spend 1% of their lives outdoors.” I’m also pretty sure Nike (or whoever) omitted time spent travelling in cars, or going to and from cars, from that 1% figure. My memory is pretty hazy here, and Google is surprisingly unhelpful. So I might be misremembering.

However! At the time (1995?) it certainly didn’t seem unlikely that Americans really did spend 1% of their lives outdoors. And remember, this was before the Internet was actually interesting so the number may have declined in the interim. At the time (1995?), I was practicing archaeology, which occasionally meant spending as much as 100% of my time outdoors, if you consider sleeping in a tent to be “outdoors.” So on the subject of this particular (hazily remembered) Nike (or whoever) shoe (or whatever) campaign, I could feel a certain sense of moral superiority.

Which leads me to wonder, how much of my life now do I spend outside? Here’s a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation (do I make any other kind?)

In every 24 hour weekday, I always:

  • Walk the dog for 30 to 60 minutes (total)
  • Ride my bike at least 60 minutes (total)
  • Walk to the coffeeshop in the morning and afternoon (15 minutes)

On a “typical” weekday in weather that isn’t pouring down rain I’m also likely to:

  • Ride my bike an extra 10 miles or so (+45 minutes)
  • Walk or ride my bike to the grocery (+15 minutes)
  • Take a lunchtime bike ride downtown (+30 minutes)

So for my usual weekday activities, in pretty good weather (10 months of the year in Portland), I probably spend about 210 minutes outdoors, which is about 14% of a 1440-minute day.

My weekends — especially since Orion’s arrival — are seldom “typical” in any sense, so I’m going to try to pin down a minimum here. This will involve a lot of handwaving I’m sure. But on any weekend I’m pretty likely to do the following:

  • About 90 minutes of yard work
  • 120 minutes of dog-walking
  • Perhaps 60 minutes (as a rough average)1 of bike-riding

So in a 2880-minute weekend, I’m spending at least 270 minutes, or 9% of my time, outdoors.

I don’t think I lead an excessively outdoorsy life, but it looks like I’m al fresco 9 to 14 times more often than Nike’s putative average American. That seems fishy. If the average American spends 1% of their time outdoors (omitting time spent going from car to door and vice versa), that pencils out to just 14 minutes a day.

Do you think most Americans spend less than 14 minutes/day outside?

And does anyone else remember that ad campaign?


1 This is a really rough average, especially now that Orion is here. Pre-Orion, I might have gone two or three weeks without a significant ride, with a four to eight hour monster in the middle.