The beauty of walking

A while ago, I argued that the case for bike-friendly infrastructure has been too focused on the environmental and health benefits of biking. As a result, it’s been easy for bike opponents to dismiss bike lanes as a play space for yuppie hobbyists, rather than a practical piece of infrastructure that offers people a transportation option that is much cheaper than a car.

When it comes to walking, however, I think the best strategy may be to spark a cultural awakening around the psychological, physical and –– if you’re so inclined –– spiritual benefits of a leisurely stroll through the neighborhood.

Just think about how much time and money we spend at the gym, trying to mitigate the negative physical and psychological effects of our sedentary professional lives by lifting heavy objects, running for extended periods of time or contorting our bodies into weird shapes? Not too long ago, people would have regarded this behavior as a bizarre waste of time and human labor.

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That’s not to say that all of us are gym rats. Many of us don’t exercise at all. Hence the obesity epidemic.

Walking as a form of transportation is a great alternative to the gym, both for those who can’t bring themselves to go to the gym and those who are unhappily spending a lot of time there. And for those of us who truly enjoy going to the gym, walking is a great way to supplement your exercise regime! Alas, Americans walk less than anybody else in the industrialized world.

Just as important as the physical benefits, why don’t more of us view a 10, 20, 30 or 40-minute walk as an opportunity to enjoy time to ourselves, to clear our heads, or to interact with our community? Why don’t pastors encourage their parishioners to slow down and enjoy the wonders of the Lord’s creation on their way to church Sunday morning?

Yes, driving will usually get you there faster. But what are you losing by taking 20 minutes to walk to the restaurant and 20 minutes to walk back home? Time away from your TV? Your computer?

I reached out to Walk Austin and got a few thoughts from members of their board. Here’s Katie Deolloz:

Walking is the one form of movement/exercise with the lowest barrier to entry. A person at rest “exerts” one MET (metabolic equivalent). That number doubles simply by getting up and walking in her home/office. Choosing to move at a pace of three to four miles an hour can increase the energy expenditure up to for or five METs and is considered “moderate” intensity physical activity.
In addition to the physical benefits, there are proven social and emotional benefits that are derived when walking with others. Walking is nothing short of a joy…it is how we as humans are designed to move!

And here’s Heyden Black Walker:

I was lucky enough to travel to Paris over the New Year with my husband and college-age daughter. We walked an average of 8 miles / day just walking to the Metro, seeing sights, stopping for coffee or groceries, etc.  We were simply enjoying the city, with no intentional exercise plans.  IMO we should be building cities where people get the exercise they need simply by going about their daily lives.

Look, you don’t have to tell me that it’s not always possible to walk everywhere. I get it. Not everybody has free time, and that’s a shame. But many of us have lots and lots of free time, but we have simply chosen to spend as little of it outside as possible. And that’s a shame too.

Of course, for walking to truly be a joyful experience requires us to start building cities for people, not cars. We need to build sidewalks on every street, in every neighborhood. We need to mix commerce with housing, so that people have stuff they can walk to. And we need to get serious about public transit, the greatest ally of the pedestrian.

This article has been changed to correct the misspelling of Heyden Black Walker’s name. 

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