Nearly everyone walks at some point every day. Walking requires no special skills, advanced training, or special equipment. Walking is good for your health. Walking is good for the environment. Walking is free. So why are Americans walking less? And are we at a crisis?
According to Tom Vanderbilt in Slate’s four-part series on “The Crisis In American Walking”, “In an America enraptured by the cultural prosthesis that is the automobile, walking has become a lost mode, perceived as not a legitimate way to travel but a necessary adjunct to one’s car journey, a hobby, or something that people without cars—those pitiable ‘vulnerable road users,’ as they are called with charitable condescension—do. To decry these facts—to examine, as I will in this series, how Americans might start walking more again— may seem like a hopelessly retrograde, romantic exercise: nostalgia for Thoreau’s woodland ambles. But the need is urgent. The decline of walking has become a full-blown public health nightmare.”
To make his case, Vanderbilt cites a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise that states Americans lag far behind other highly developed nations when it comes to walking. According to the study, Americans average only 5,117 steps a day, about half the amount of steps taken by Australians, who average 9,695 steps a day. The Swiss are close behind the Australians at 9,650 steps
and those living in Japan take 7,168 steps per day. Additionally, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reports that walking for exercise is one of the most popular sports in Australia.
Why are Americans lagging instead of walking? Can we close in on this gap? Experts recommend U.S. adults add 30 to 40 minutes of walking to their physical activity regimen daily in order to reduce this widening fitness gap. But, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2009, only 51% of the population got 30+ minutes of moderate physical activity five or more days per week, or vigorous activity for 20+ minutes three or more days per week.
How can we “step up” our walking activity? Perhaps, Vanderbilt’s series will shed some light and provide some tips. In the meantime, we can start by walking a mile in our own shoes, changing our lifestyle, and incorporating more walking into our daily routine. For example, let’s walk to work. Can’t walk to work? Then commute to work by public transportation and take advantage of the opportunity for two walks per weekday, from home to station or stop to your destination and back again. Of course, you can also add walking to your lunch hour and do your local errands on foot.
To learn how you can add more steps to your walking lifestyle, let your fingers do the walking and check out WalkArlington.com for tips on pedestrian safety, suggestions on walking routes, and a listing of walking events to put on your calendar! Then lace up your walking shoes and get out there.
WalkArlington, an initiative of Arlington County Commuter Services within the Department of Environmental Services, gets "more people walking more of the time" by promoting the health, environmental, community-building, and commuting benefits of walking.