The Value of Walking


When I checked into a Philadelphia hostel en route from Spain to emcee at Montreal’s Startup Fest the front desk staff asked if his transport directions from the airport had worked. “Yes,” I replied, “but I decided to get off at 30th Street so I could walk the rest of the way and see the city before it got dark.” “That’s 2 miles in 80 degree heat!” he exclaimed. Should this have been such a shocking act? I had just finished a 500-mile walk in mostly 80–90 degree weather several days prior and felt like the train moved too fast. Upon arrival I would likely set down my pack and go for a walk anyway so why not just walk there?

Pedestrianism in America has gone the way of ole. Americans are moving much less than people in other developed countries and it’s harming us. “David R. Bassett Jr., a professor in the department of kinesiology, recreation and sport studies at the University of Tennessee. “A person is typically considered sedentary if they take less than 5,000 steps per day” and the study showed “American men, with an average daily step count of 5,340, are moving more than women, who averaged only 4,912 steps a day.”

Seeing Fences is aptly timed for the writing of this article as the fence Troy builds for Rose is appropriate for the time but has been shown in research by Charles Montgomery and others to impede community. Planning for fluid movement of community through neighborhoods by taking down fences is actually tremendously beneficial. But fences going up matters less when you’re in a car versus on foot and America has long said yes to automobiles which has unintended consequences, including killing us in more ways than one. Auto accidents took 35,092 lives in 2015, a 7.2% increase over 2014. If that’s not scary enough, driving inevitably means sitting. Is sitting the new smoking? Probably. And what can be done? You could say no to fences and no to sitting. But no is at best neutral. As Improv and Alexander Technique teach, yes (yes, and) works better if you want to move the story forward; move toward something.

Yes works better if you want to move the story forward.

It’s not just semantics — the frame matters, i.e. you don’t move away from a burning building, instead you move toward safety. I’d like to make a case for saying yes to walking. Walking and moving can improve your mental well-being, social, neighborhood and more. Dan Rubenstein writes in Born to Walk, “a Swedish experiment which determined that people engaging in two hours of light physical activity (walking, gardening) each week had a 63 percent reduced risk of developing depression. And they support the declarations of experts such as John Arden, the director of mental-health training at American health-care provider Kaiser Permanente: “Walking is the cheapest and easiest way to get relief from depression.” Further, “One of the positive psychological benefits of systematic exercise,” Blumenthal and his co-authors wrote in a paper about the experiment, “is the development of a sense of personal mastery and positive self-regard.””

A study from Stanford in 2014 showed, “walking indoors or outdoors similarly boosted creative inspiration. The act of walking itself, and not the environment, was the main factor. Across the board, creativity levels were consistently and significantly higher for those walking compared to those sitting.” If the benefits of free, stress/depression reduction, creativity, personal mastery and positive self-regard aren’t enough leaders such as Steve Jobs, Aristotle, Freud, Harry S. Truman and Charles Dickens also found their muse in walking.

On a tight budget, no time, founder depression, lack of connectedness to the community around you? Don’t be fooled by resolutions. They’re as unreliable as feelings as they compare your current state to something in the past. Pick something you can move toward, measure and attain. Kata your way there by picking a target condition (i.e. more than what you’re doing now), and put one foot in front of the other over and over so you can create a new habit that feeds your life.

Say yes. Take a walk. It might change everything.