The Art of Walking: A Passion for the Pedestrian

“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least,—and it is commonly more than that,—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.” – Henry David Thoreau

bridge_girl

My baby pulls himself up now, teeters on a knee and one foot, and then plunks down. He’ll take his first steps soon, sway and totter across the living room floor, and join me in one of my favorite activities – walking.

I’ve loved to walk for as long as I can remember. My parents walked me and my sister to and from school each day until we were old enough to walk alone. We hiked in the Rocky Mountains most summer weekends. We strolled around our neighborhood after dinner. We did errands on foot, stopping at the bank, the hardware store, and the grocery store. My dad even wrote notes to get us out of school on crisp fall afternoons so we could amble along as a family, talk, and gaze at the streaks of red and orange aspen trees on the hillsides. Perhaps this is why walking feels like eating and breathing to me, like I’m not really living unless I’m doing it often.

Walking has factored into many of my big life decisions, like where I’ve lived and worked. I’ve been able to get to work or school on foot most days for my entire life. My commute has ranged from a few blocks to a few miles. I walked four miles a day throughout my pregnancy, right up until the day before my son’s birth. I even walked a couple of miles when I was in labor. I’ve walked up mountains, across beaches, through cities, and up and down a hallway countless times with a sleepy baby in my arms.

I love to walk without purpose, to set my own pace, to have nowhere to go, no time frame, nobody to meet, no one to talk to, and nothing in particular to think about. I love to walk to sort through something I’m writing; or reflect on a bad day; or listen to a podcast; or just meditate on my surroundings. I love to walk with my husband, a good friend, my mom, or my sister and let our conversations drift from topic to topic. I love to lull my baby to sleep on my back as I weave through neighborhoods, across parks, up hills, and down bike paths.

I hate that the word pedestrian also means dull, uninspired, unexciting, or humdrum. I’m convinced the world would be a better place if everyone who was able walked, strode, clomped, jaunted, sauntered, tramped, meandered, shuffled, plodded, and wandered a lot more. We used to. In On Foot: A History of Walking, Joseph A. Amato points out that it’s only very recently that humans have sat and ridden “first on horses and in carriages, then on trains and bicycles, and finally in cars, trucks, buses, and airplanes.” He argues this revolution in the way we live has changed not only our bodies but our minds. It’s altered, “conceptions of space, distance, motion, movement, and the amount of energy necessary to invest in travel.” Amato’s book, as well as Rebecca Solnit’s magnificent Wanderlust: A History of Walking, and Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Walking,” exemplify that walking is anything but pedestrian. It inspires passion, magic, creativity – art.

In honor of one of my favorite activities: here are six reasons to lace on some comfortable shoes and hit the pavement, path, or trail today (and every other day too!):

1. Your health

fitness

Moderate daily exercise is essential for good health, and walking is a great exercise. The Honolulu Heart Study followed retired non-smoking men over the age of sixty for twelve years and found that men who walked just two miles a day cut their risk of premature death nearly in half. Of course most people know exercise is great for the heart. It may surprise you that the walkers were also two-and-a-half times less likely to die of cancer than their sedentary peers.  (New England Journal of Medicine, Jan 9, 1998)

2. The Environment

I’ve written about how much I love bikes . And walking is even easier on the earth than cycling. No one has to mine molybdenum, titanium, aluminum, or smelt steel for you to hit the pavement.  All you need is a comfortable pair of shoes (which you probably own anyway). The more trips we make on foot, the cleaner our air, water, and planet will be.

To make walking an even greener option, check out this Runner’s World article on the environmental “footprint” of running shoes, and consider supporting companies striving to make greener shoes. You can also drop off your used running shoes at a recycling center. Find one near you here.

path3. Fresh Air

Richard Louv coined the term “nature deficit disorder” in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods referring to the trend of children spending less time outdoors. Louv believes a lack of outdoors time leads to all sorts of behavioral problems in kids. Spending time in nature is undoubtedly good for children and adults alike. A daily walk allows you to note the gradual shifts in the seasons, watch the sun rise or set, keep track of the moon’s cycles, breathe in fresh air, explore the vast variety of plants and animals, and just be part of the natural world.

4. Problem solving

As Solnit writes in Wanderlust: A History of Walking, “the rhythm of walking generates a kind of rhythm of thinking.” It’s probably not a coincidence that so many of our great thinkers and writers were also great fans of walking – Thoreau, William Shakespeare, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, William Wordsworth, John Adams, Soren Keirkegaard, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jane Austen, and more.

5. Family and Neighborhood Connections

A daily after-dinner stroll is not only good for digestion. It’s also a great time to catch up with your spouse or kids and get to know your neighbors. Check out your neighborhood’s “walk score” here.

family walk

6. It’s easy

My favorite thing about walking is how easy it is to incorporate into daily life. Just lace on some shoes, set a comfortable pace, and enjoy the scenery. That’s all it takes.

What’s your favorite thing about walking? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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About Abby Quillen

Abby Quillen writes fiction and magazine articles. Her articles and essays have appeared in YES! Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, Colorado Central Magazine, and on Common Dreams, Nation of Change, Reader Supported News, The Daily Good, Truthout, and Shareable.net. You can find more of her writing at http://abbyquillen.com.

Comments

  1. Oh how I love walking! Our next play date should be a walking adventure. Do you know any good hikes near by that the kids could manage? (or at least Soren – named after a walker!) I want to do as much hiking/walking-in-the-woods as possible this summer.

    • newurbanhabitat says:

      That sounds great! Let’s do it! I love walking dates. And may Soren be as devoted of a walker as his namesake.

  2. I took a walk after dinner tonight. I too love walking but find it so hard to do while working every day. Too bad my husband has a job where he is on his feet all day because it is often difficult to convince him to walk in the evenings. I also walked with my family a lot as a child, especially with my mom, and have great memories of that. A few weeks ago I decided to only travel by bus or on foot for a day, and re-discovered that whole different feeling of distance that you get outside of a car. Let’s keep walking!

    • newurbanhabitat says:

      Hi Rose! I know what you mean about gaining a different feeling of distance when you leave the car at home. That’s part of why I love living within walking-distance to work. It makes the whole city feel a little bit smaller and more managable. Yes, let’s keep walking!

  3. It’s sounds like EZ-E
    off the knee!
    Up onto his feet
    Running with the elite.

  4. Isabell says:

    I came across your site via Google. Your article is inspiring. I love to walk and run when I can. When the weather warms up, we plan on taking more trips to the park and to the zoo each week as a family. Loving the pic of the young girl walking across the bridge too. I was wondering if you would permit me to use it. I am creating a poster about self reliance for a non-profit organization, for which I am also donating my time and artistic skills towards it with no monetary gain. With your permission, I will be sure to credit your site for use of the image. Thanks in advance. Looking forward to your reply.

    Isabell

  5. I have to say, I’ve spent thousands of hours walking over the last half of my life. And it’s been big for creating who I am today. Cervantes, author of don Quixote, said, “El que anda mucho y lee mucho, ve mucho y sabe mucho.” In other words, “He who walks a lot and reads a lot sees a lot and knows a lot.”

  6. Ivan Valles says:

    Hi Abby, I got to you blog through zenhabits.net, and I loved this post because I felt very identified. It’s very rare that I get to meet people who enjoy walking for the sake of walking, with no fixed course.

    It’s hard for me to explain to someone why I like it so much, from now on I’ll direct them to this. Thanks.

  7. In all the benefits of walking commonly mentioned, family and neighborhood connections are rarely mentioned but so true. Walking with small children opens their world to new sights and smells, new things to talk about, and a shared activity that doesn’t show up differences in skill as so many others do. Walking with tweens and teens may have even more benefits. It establishes a comfortable comaraderie, leaving space for peaceable quiet or wonderful conversations.

    As for neighborhood, you’re entirely right. You know those neighbors no one really knows, the ones that never wave to anyone? Even they become more relaxed around someone they see passing by every day. Eventually they start to return a wave. That small gesture, to me, helps make a street feel like a neighborhood. Walking in one’s community also makes you more aware of what’s going on—what plants are emerging, what little business is struggling, what neighbor is out of town—-the kinds of things that help you stay attuned in all sorts of ways.

    I love to see people out and walking. It’s not common where I live, but they know me, I’m the one out in all weather.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] The Art of Walking: A Passion for the Pedestrian [...]

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  5. [...] experiment made me think about my own walks. I love to walk, and I’ve walked nearly every day for as long as I can remember. Thus for much of my life, [...]

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  7. [...] but it’s impossible to avoid riding our bikes on the streets altogether. And as much as I love walking, I’m all too aware that it can be risky. I know two pedestrians who were hit by cars – [...]

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