In an effort to help the planet, my challenge this month is to walk for all trips I do that are less than five kilometres. This means no cars, cabs or even public transit for trips that take an hour or less by foot. Here are five observations from the first 20 days of the challenge.
A Marathon in Eight Days
For me, a five kilometre run is an achievement. I’ve always found that longer runs are unbearable because of the stress that running puts on my joints. From my perspective, the hope of completing a marathon is as inconceivable as summiting Mount Everest. It’s just not going to happen. So, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that I had walked the equivalent of a marathon in the first eight days of my challenge. While this feat isn’t likely to impress at cocktail parties, it is a fun way to think about all the ground you cover while going about your daily routine. The kilometres really do add up fast. Now just to shave a couple days from my personal best time.
No Gym Membership Required
For most trips, walking takes a lot more time than other modes of travel. The added time it takes to get around is one of the main reasons why people don’t walk more often. However, if you factor in the time out of the day that is needed to exercise, then walking becomes a much more appealing option. One of the perks of walking is it doubles as both a mode of transportation and a way to exercise. It effectively kills two birds with one stone. So far this month I have walked an average of 6.2 kilometres a day, which takes about 80 minutes. This exceeds the requirement for a “physically active” lifestyle – one that includes physical activity equivalent to walking more than five kilometres at a moderate pace. Knowing that I am meeting my daily quota for physical activity while in transit is a big incentive to walk more.
10,000 Step-a-Day Program
If you are trying to lose weight, the health community typically recommends walking 10,000-12,000 steps per day, in addition to maintaining a healthy diet and drinking lots of water. Longer, moderately paced walks are best for losing weight. Be warned, walking 10,000 steps a day is not a trivial matter. I have fallen short of this target despite abstaining from vehicles all month (my average is just over 8,200 steps a day). To reach a daily average of 10,000 steps, I would need to increase my walking range from five kilometres, or else start going for purely recreational walks in addition to my daily travels. In my case, adding an extra 2,000 steps would mean walking about 20 minutes more per day.
The Amish Benchmark
Cars and other modern conveniences have led to a major decline in the amount of walking people do. One way to illustrate how sedentary our society has become in the past 150 years is to look at the Amish, who have refrained from using automobiles and other modern technologies. According to a 2004 study of physical activity amongst an Amish community in southern Ontario, Amish men averaged more than 18,000 steps a day while the women averaged more than 14,000 steps per day. Well above the 10,000 steps needed to lose weight, it’s no wonder only 4% of Amish adults are obese. By comparison, 34% of adults in the United States and 24% in Canada are obese (OECD). The Amish lifestyle may not be realistic for most of us, but it does provide an upper benchmark for physical activity in our day-to-day routine. I’ve hit this benchmark for men only twice this month – it works out to be about three hours of walking in the day.
Easy on the Pocketbook
Walking is a good way to save money, and not just from the obvious savings in fuel, parking, taxis or transit fares. Less expected, all this walking is saving me money because I’ve been more discerning with my travel choices. Due to the time it takes to walk, I am not nearly as impulsive with discretionary trips like dining out or going to the movies. Walking is forcing me to slow down and think more carefully about my travel decisions. If I’m going to invest 45 minutes to walk to the theatre, for example, the film better be Oscar worthy. The net result is I’m taking fewer frivolous excursions, spending less, and taking more pleasure in the trips I do make.