The World Needs More Walking
Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve loved high impact workouts. I used to run almost daily and compete in long distance races - from 10km to marathons. As with age comes wisdom (and a few injuries and health issues), I’ve now realized that my favourite way to exercise, reduce stress and heal my body, mind and spirit, is to walk.
Walking is the most natural form of movement known to humankind - we learn as babies how to do it and our ancestors have been doing it since the beginning of time.
We used to walk everywhere until the personal automobile came along and redefined mobility. With the car, we no longer needed to put one leg in front of the other. With just the simple gesture of putting one foot down on the gas pedal, we could be transported quickly from one destination to another.
Cars didn’t just change how we move, they sprawled out our cities, polluted the air we breathe, took away our green space and encouraged us to get as far away from our neighbours as possible.
The car still dominates city life today, but it looks like walking is making a comeback. And in true walking fashion, it is happening slowly.
According to a federal study released on Tuesday, more American adults are walking regularly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that 62 percent of adults walk 10 minutes or more a week, up from 55.7 percent in 2005.
Of course this is not enough. If you look at the reverse, the more shocking statistic here is that 48 per cent of Americans walk for less that 10 minutes or more a week.
Cities - small and large - have a role to play in making walking a more pleasant, viable option in urban areas across North America.
The health benefits of walking are well known- it reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, increases bone density, helps with osteoarthritis, weight loss, mental health and flexibility. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, a popular integrative health doctor and author (I highly recommend his books), walking can be more beneficial than any other form of exercise because of its positive effect on the central nervous system.
“Human beings are meant to walk. We are bipedal, upright organisms with bodies designed for locomotion. When you walk, the movement of your limbs is cross-patterned: the right leg and the left arm move forward at the same time, then the left leg and the right arm. This type of movement generates electrical activity in the brain that has a harmonizing influence of the whole central nervous system - a special benefit of walking that you do not necessarily get from other forms of exercise.”
I think as young adults, we forget the benefits of walking and dismiss it as too slow and boring for our fast paced lives. Checking our iPhones, surfing the net and doing high intensity workouts while watching TV (mostly indoors) are preferable to walking due to our 24/7 need for instant gratification.
It is reassuring that many recent studies are showing that young people are less interested in driving or owning a car, but the sad fact is that this may be because they are more interested in sitting indoors and interacting with people over social media.
While cities are eager to make our streets more bike-friendly, an equal amount of effort needs to be made to make them more walkable. Ideally, every neighbourhood should have a nearby commercial “Main St.” style shopping district, adjacent to residential streets with wider sidewalks, more trees, landscaping, and cross walks, while creating roads with traffic-calming speed bumps and roundabouts.
Every citizen deserves access to a pleasant 15-30 minute walk when they step out their door. Cities must do their part to make this possible.