Walk, walk, walk, walk, walk

by Paul Michael on 24 July 2009 20 comments

There’s one fact that is undeniable in America; we just don’t walk enough. A dependence on automobiles, elevators and escalators, coupled with a growing lack of interest in exercise and a healthy diet, has made walking something of a rarity in most parts of America. And it’s costing you, in so many ways.

In the now infamous documentary Super-Size Me, Morgan Spurlock carried a pedometer with him to ensure that he took the same number of steps that the average American takes each day (5000 at the time of filming…who knows what it is now). He ended up taking buses and taxis a lot. In one scene, he’s already exceeded his 5000 steps before he even had breakfast. Of course, that was in Manhattan, where walking is often quicker than taxis and buses.

But should this be an excuse for people who don’t live in that bustling metropolis? When I lived in England, which was for most of my life, I walked everywhere. I walked to school, to college, to the city centers, even to the grocery store (which was 40 minutes each way, and longer on the way back when I was laden with shopping bags).

 

Even though my diet was pretty bad most of the time, my weight stayed at a healthy 180-185lbs. I walked away the weight daily. Sometimes I would have to take public transportation to get to work, but I still had a good walk to and from the train stations or bus depots. And I didn’t drive. Why bother? I had everything covered and London was a hellhole to drive in.

Fast-forward 8 years and I’m no longer 185lbs. I’m closer to 215lbs these days, and although my diet is much improved (less beer, more vegetables, less beer) I’ve been steadily gaining for the last 7 years. And what happened in that time? Well, I moved to America and learned to drive. I wish there were a longer, more complex answer but that’s it.

Until recently, I was irritated if I didn’t get a parking spot close to the doors of my destination. I would get annoyed when my friends wanted to take the stairs. I would find myself getting seriously peeved if the moving walkways and escalators were out of order. And that’s what I think the problem is. A diet of cheap fast food, computer games, TV shows and a complete addiction to the car as a means of transportation has left millions of people overweight, in bad health and dying at an earlier age. As the Daily Mail recently reported:

"Parents could soon begin to outlive their children because of an epidemic of obesity afflicting the younger generation. Many youngsters are now so grossly overweight they face premature death caused by a heart attack or stroke."

This unhealthy lifestyle costs us all. Healthcare is the main rising expense, as well as drugs needed for diabetes, joint pain and so many more ailments that come from a lack of simple, daily exercise. And as your waistline increases, so do the costs of many other things you take for granted. A lot of the larger clothing sizes cost a few extra bucks, and even the airlines are starting to charge for obese passengers.

So, what are we to do? And what am I doing? Well, I’m walking more. Yes, I’m also cycling and working out, but I’m walking way more than I used to. It’s a tough habit to get into, but once you do you’ll find it easy to keep going. Here are five ways you can put more steps into your daily routine:

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2: WALK up and down the stairs.
Don’t be tempted to take the elevator every time you have to go up and down a floor or two. Admittedly, if you work at the top of a 50 story building, that’s not going to be a simple walk. But when it’s just up a flight or two f stairs in a mall, at work or in an airport, forget the elevators. And if you have to take the escalators, walk up and down those instead of just standing there.

3: WALK on your breaks.
Most of us get a few breaks at work. An hour for lunch and a couple of 15 minute breaks in the morning and afternoon is fairly typical. Instead of sitting around chatting or trawling the internet, make use of your free time. Take a walk around your floor, your house, your building or wherever it is you spend your day. These additional steps will also give you more energy.

4: WALK your dog (or someone else’s).
It’s easy to get fit when you’ve got a purpose. In this case, taking your pooch on a long, brisk walk at least once a day will really help you burn some calories and fell good about yourself. And your doggie wil love you for it.

5: WALK to the beat.
Sorry for the lame title, but the message is good. With MP3 players almost being given away these days, it’s easy to walk to some of your favorite tunes. It’s also a good way to judge your progress. If you only walk to track seven one day, try going to track eight the next. Or maybe you’ll have covered more ground the next time you get to track nine.

 

So, that’s a simple but cheap and effective way to get healthy and lose some weight.

If you’re looking for ways to liven up a walk, there’s a great publication out there called The Walking Deck: 50 Ways To Walk Yourself Healthy. Amazon has it right now, and this set of 50 handy cards gives you some great ideas for diversifying your walking routine. Get walking, get healthy and get yourself out there.

 

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Guest's picture
Dianna

so true. i don't walk nearly as much as i probably should, but a lot more than my (much heavier, though to be fair some of that is body type) family, who never walk anywhere except around the mall. they live in a year-round warm climate -- florida -- but it's one of the most car-dependent places i've ever seen, you really can't walk anywhere from their house.

a lot of places in america are like that, especially in the suburbs. they didn't take pedestrians into account at ALL when they were built so even if you want to walk, you actually can't -- the sidewalks are too narrow for two people to walk side-by-side, neighborhoods are bound by busy, multi-lane boulevards with few crosswalks and red lights that don't last long enough to actually make it all the way across. it's like living on an island.

Guest's picture
Tammie Thomas

We lost our car almost a year ago and my hisband hours were cut, so getting a car just wasn't going to happen! we walk anywhere we are going!

Now, I have my dad's bike and we are a riding family of 6. I feel like we have more freedom because we are not tired to having to live around having a car. We have freedom because we are making a differece, people notice us, because we walk/ride our bikes all the time!

Guest's picture
Diana

We moved to a new neighborhood with a lot of great walking trails a year ago. I started walking every evening and without changing my diet, at first. I lost 10 pounds!!! Then after I lost the weight I cut back on some of the snacks, and lost a few more pounds. Now I feel healthier and stronger. Which I need to lug my shopping bags to my car and the far end of the parking lot. Thanks for the inspiration to keep moving.

Guest's picture
NC for Me

I love to walk and have found it the best way to drop those extra LBS! I do live in the 'burbs and currently looking for a small town to move to along the coast where I can leave the car behind even more. To be able to walk to dinner, farmers market, or even my job is a dream of mine. Hope to make it come true sooner than later

Guest's picture
Diane

I gained 5 lbs when I moved from NYC to CA and got a car. My goal for this summer is to bike or take public transit everywhere for all my daytime errands and visits. I haven't used the car in 2 weeks and I feel GREAT and am getting to know my town all over again, even though I've lived here 5 years. I didn't realize how much I missed being outside.

Guest's picture

I'm happy to say this isn't a problem in my life. I live in a automobile driven suburban universe but I walk at least five miles nearly every day. Not only is it for exercise, but it's also my quiet time to think. We spend so much time being entertained by electronic devices that free and deep thought are in short supply.

On item #1 about parking lots, it puzzles and iritates me to see people fighting for the spots closest to the facitlity they're going to when dozens or 100s of empty spaces are just a short walk away. I have no desire to enter conflict over a close in space and prefer to park where someone is less likely to put a dent in my car by recklessly throwing their car door open.

Maybe it doesn't bother me to park farther out because I'm accustomed to walking. I guess if you aren't then getting the closest space would be of some importance.

Guest's picture
sarah sevcech

i would love to walk, but with temperatures constantly in the high 80's, i'm pretty disgusting by the time i reach my destination.

and my foot's broken.

Guest's picture

Anyone ever been to Phoenix? Try walking in 115 degrees for more than a few minutes at a time, or 110 plus humidity during the miserable monsoon season. Not a lot of fun, even walking back and forth to the car. But the summer here only lasts from about March through October, so I guess that leaves a few months out of the year where it's reasonable to walk a little.

Guest's picture

I agree, we truly don't get enough walking. Although you're suggestions are good...taking those extra steps via the parking lot or taking the stairs or on breaks just doesn't cut it. Trust me. Me and the ladies at work walk daily. We even climb 5 flights of hospital stairs. I've cut down on portion size, tracked my meals... it just doesn't cut down the weight.

I think in addition to walking more is to cook at home. Cook healthy meals with grains and veggies. Eating out is atrociously loaded with calories, fat, and sugar. And portion sizes are enough to feed 2 - 3 people in these establishments (I order from the senior or kids menu). America definitely has an issue!

Guest's picture
Kin

I agree with your topic. Then we can also talk about the inverse of it -- that we sit too much. We drive to work sitting. We sit at work. We drive home sitting. We sit at home to watch TV. Finally we lie down to sleep. (Repeat) So to walk more, perhaps we need to learn to do less of these things. We can ask ourselves...

Perhaps we work too much?
Perhaps we drive too much?
Perhaps we watch too much TV?

I will leave sleep alone. In fact, I think most people don't sleep enough, but that's another topic.

Guest's picture

I must agree, with all technology, the average individual may only walk to the grocery store. But this is why technology is here, to make things easier for human beings. Don"t suggest we slow down on the technology, but remember to use what GOD gave us and appreciate being able to walk. Not all of people have this privilege.

Guest's picture

Excellent post. Walking is one of the best exercises we can choose and it requires no equipment and can be done at no expense. I recommend walking as exercise on a regular basis, especially to my patients who have diabetes and who are looking for ways to improve their blood sugar control. On my blog at www.dentistryfordiabetics.com/blog I write extensively about the importance of exercise and diet as well as dental care for improved glucose control.

Charles Martin, DDS
Founder, Dentistry for Diabetics

Guest's picture
carole

The obesity and resultant diabetes in this country keeps getting worse, so when I read about a company (Novo Nordisk) developing a new once-a-day drug for diabetes, I bought stock. Sadly, there will be many more people in need of these medications in the future; a drug offering once-a-day dosing should have good financial prospects. It's gone up more than 10% since I bought it earlier this year.

Guest's picture
Rosa

I see this one a lot, and it always makes me angry:

3: WALK on your breaks.

When I worked in an office, I got 2 15-minute breaks and one half-hour break. I used them to drink, eat (something that's just as necessary to life as exercise), answer personal email, pee, rescue my food from the fridge on cleanout day, sign birthday or going-away cards, do my banking, schedule pediatrician and dentist appointments.

Now that I work at home I use my breaks to load or unload the dishwasher, do laundry, deal with family issues, etc.

None of us are over-endowed with free time.

This idea that we're all lazy people who totally could work in an hour or two of walking (or whatever kind of exercise is being pushed) is really irritating. Haven't these people seen the stats on how many hours Americans work? And for those of us with young children - I walked about an hour and a half today but it was only two miles because I was accompanying my 4 year old on his scooter.

Guest's picture
Shannon

I find it funny because I was born, bred and raised in the United States. Living in NY most of my life, I never had a car and walked everywhere. Even though I was overweight, the walks never caused me any discomfort.

Around 11 years ago I moved to the Midwest and drive everywhere. I would even drive to the McDonald's and it was only 2 blocks away!

I never realized how important walking was until my husband I visited the UK for 17 days. Within 3 days our pants were falling down because of all the walking we were doing around London. As we continued our travels up through Ft. William, Inverness and finally Edinburgh, we were healthier and had tons more energy. In that 17 days, we not only walked everywhere but ate real homemade foods - no fast food restaurants and I didn't even have my normal daily Starbucks until my last day there.

That amazing experience has taught us the importance of walking and how easy it really is when you don't think about it.

Guest's picture
Cidre

Haha.

Last time I went a-walking I nearly got taken out by a car.

Anyway, this is a good list but I think you need a bit more. Namely, if you're going to walk, make sure you're safe. I don't care if you're male, female, old, young, whatever. Anyone can become a victim of a crime. Parking at the far end of the mall might be okay in the daytime, but at night in the middle of winter? Get your ass close to the doors. Maybe I'm just paranoid because it's not uncommon where I live/work to be mugged and a friend of mine was raped, but paranoia saves lives. And you should NEVER EVER EVER be plugged into a mp3 player or a phone while walking. You can't hear cars, or someone coming up behind you.

Guest's picture
prufock

Evolutionary advantages of laziness - that is, conserving energy - aren't really an issue for most of us any more. Technology has brought everything we need closer and made it almost disgustingly easy to sit on the couch and watch TV all night.

Cidre - that's definitely a situational thing. There's little fear of cars ramming you if you're on a sidewalk, and there are very few neighbourhoods in my community where I would feel uncomfortable walking at night.

Guest's picture

To me, walking is free exercise. I park far from the door to the office, and I always take the stairs. I find that a trip up and down the stairs wakes me up when I'm feeling sluggish.

Guest's picture
madgeylou

i guess if you are completely sedentary and you start walking, some weight might come off. but i live in NYC, work out 5 hours a week, and still have to be ultra-strict with what i eat if i want to lose any weight at all. walking isn't enough, though obviously it's good for me.

Guest's picture

I'm always amused by people who fight for a parking spot 10 feet closer to the door, and then walk 1.2 miles around the mall for two hours. Unless it's a torrential downpour I typically just park at the first spot that's open. This post was a good reminder to park a little farther away from now on.