Walking with a Purpose

By James P. Johnson

I recently read that walking with a purpose has health benefits that exceed just going for a walk. Wondering how this could be, I found out when you walk purposefully—that is, you have a reason to reach a destination—you’re more likely to walk at a faster pace and for a longer time, which leads to a small but noticeable increase in fitness. Walking from home to work resulted in the fastest speed and most benefit, according to the study, published in the Journal of Transport and Health, which separated walking trips into categories.

You’ve probably heard of the being-out-in-nature dividend. A 2019 World Health Organization review of nine major studies found walking in green spaces leads to better health, even if it’s a tree-lined street in the city and you don’t even consciously notice all the trees and greenery.

Using a car to go places can be a hard-to-change mindset, though. My brother has expressed a negative view to me about using muscle power to go places. My retired, next-door neighbor dresses in his walking outfit and does three miles around a nearby park in the morning. Yet he makes frequent short trips in his vehicle, and, in 18 years, I have never seen him walk beyond his house except for his park circuits. This mindset seems common—walking as an exercise routine is acceptable, but less so as necessary transportation. Why is this?

Walking is subordinate to driving. Pedestrians must yield to cars more often than vice-versa, even if they do have the legal right of way. In winter, snow is plowed off roads onto sidewalks. Some locales so cater to cars, it’s hard to be a pedestrian. A few drivers let you know they don’t appreciate yielding to walkers, though, kudos to Spokane drivers, I don’t often experience this. Walkers may feel they’re seen as unable to afford a car, though I doubt this enters observers’ minds. Yet it all adds up to the idea that walking to get somewhere is the domain of the low status. This occurs to me, but I dismiss it as trifling compared to the positives.

I’m naturally inclined to walk purposefully; for more than 11 years, my job commute involved running or walking. I no longer have a job to commute to, so nowadays I walk a few miles each day to buy groceries, take care of errands, or go to the coffee shop. In warm weather, I often supplement bicycling to go places. I’ve become reluctant to drive, even when it’s necessary. If the roads are busy, I find driving unpleasant and wish I was walking.

I have occasional high-mileage days. The first time I walked to the dentist, I received lots of attention as word spread among staff my round-trip walk was 14 miles. On long walks such as this, I often take streets I’ve never been on. Sometimes I plan hours-long urban hikes that combine a necessary stop or two on the way to a distant shop or eating spot I’ve been wanting to visit. I’m a longtime Spokanite, but there are parts of the city I don’t often see.

The pleasure of being outside, the exercise, and a sense of satisfaction may come your way if you decide to give purposeful walking a shot. And over time, perhaps a new routine can take hold.

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