Recently, my housemate who works in a nursing home, told me about one of her patients that is truly remarkable. This patient dresses herself, bathes herself, and feeds herself – she is 104! She claims that the secret to a long life is simple: walk.
The importance of walking really struck me during my five months in Europe last spring and early summer. Everyone walked everywhere. Yes, people owned cars or scooters too, but it seemed like walking was a primary mode of transportation opposed to last resort. I walked more, and more frequently, in those five months than any other period of my life so far – an average of 5 miles per day over 5 months! (With one day in Rome when I surpassed 10 miles just walking!)
To be fair, I don’t have the most accurate data since part of January and the later half of June in the US, but I think this is close enough.
As you can tell, my lifestyle here in the United States revolves less around walking. Part of the reason is my ability to drive places and my lack of access to public transit, something that I used extensively in Europe (remember that every trip on public transit starts and ends with a walk).
I enjoy walking, and part of my life in Italy was 15 minute walk to school each day. As a result it became a habit and exercising was something I didn’t have to go out of my way to do. It also allowed me to experience Sorrento on a more personal level and at a slow speed. I now live in a suburb of Buffalo and realize how much I miss that walk to school each day. Here, I can’t even walk safely if I wanted to because sidewalks end and cars zoom by only a foot away at 55 mph. As a result, I experience this place at the speed and level of an automobile. The built environment here was designed at a scale to accommodate cars first with people and bicycles as an after thought (if a thought at all) – that is a fundamental problem with many American cities and suburbs.
Unfortunately, I, and probably the majority of the people who read this, am not in a position where I can easily change my living arrangement to a more walkable community; however, I can remember what that 104 woman told my housemate: walk.
I understand that not everyone has the ability to walk, so those of you who are, make walking a part of your daily life, even if you don’t have to. Park your car a little further away from work or the grocery store, take your dog for a longer walk, or simply walk around your neighborhood – its good for you!