Walking, the Ideal Exercise

Guest Post by John Michael

When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shop-keepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them — as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon — I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago.

Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau was a dedicated walker, who, in his essay “Walking,” admitted to not feeling well unless he spent “four hours a day at least” afoot, traveling through fields, meadows, and forests. Yet, in spite of this national icon’s praise of “sauntering,” a striking characteristic of most American city streets is the absence of pedestrians upon them.

Among the excuses used to avoid walking are unpredictable weather, unsafe neighborhoods, the fear of getting lost, and a lack of time. Additionally, there are the car-related excuses, including the damage to health caused by exhaust, the dangers of distracted drivers, and the unwanted attention a lone pedestrian can attract. 

Acknowledging America’s abandonment of walking, “in 1990 the Federal Highway (FHWA) Administrator described bicycling and walking as ‘the forgotten modes’ of transportation.” It appears that we’ve renounced walking for the sake of convenience. But what’s the point of convenience if it reduces your quality of life?

By choosing not to walk, Americans are missing out on a variety of health benefits.  Multiple studies have been published on walking’s positive impact, like its ability to reverse the shrinkage of the hippocampus in old age, reduce the risk of coronary heart disease in women, and diminish or eliminate symptoms of metabolic syndrome in both sexes.

Walking is commonly known as “the ideal exercise.” Almost anyone can do it almost anywhere, and of all of the Paleo exercises, walking is the most gentle, which means that it’s a great way to curtail the sedentary lifestyle dominating American culture today.

When contemplating a walk, use traditional American “can-do” spirit to address the above excuses. Check weather reports, use Google Maps to plan routes through quiet streets, allow yourself time, and know that just by walking you’re improving your health, and therefore your quality of life, tremendously.

From a superficial perspective, driving can appear to be the most convenient transportation option. But when viewed from a deeper perspective, it’s apparent that remaining seated in a car can exacerbate the problems that are caused by America’s sedentariness. In the long term, these health problems can then come to consume our time, thereby reducing our opportunities in life. 

Walking, though requiring more of us in the short-term, eventually repays whatever time we’ve invested with improved well-being. And, if we are to believe Thoreau, then perhaps there’s something more than just good health to be found afoot. 

But the walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated hours — as the swinging of dumb-bells or chairs; but is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day.