Walking For the Health Of It

My parents recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary touring Barcelona, Spain and the surrounding countries. Since their return, they reference this “trip of a lifetime,” reminiscing about Antoni Gaudi’s architecture, the true location of the Statue of David and the Mediterranean cruise that didn’t make my mother seasick. Yet, the most profound discovery they found was the popular European mode of transportation–walking.

To get from one place to the next, legs were required, since cars were scarce and the truly respected motored engine was the train for long distance travels. The cities my folks visited were structured to support this specific physical exercise, so they had to comply. My parents loved the experience while abroad so much that since their return, they have made serious efforts to walk at least five miles each day. Their decision was primarily motivated after they noticed the weight they lost while away, but also based on the newfound joy of walking.

It is interesting to juxtapose American and European cultures to see how each are different. In regards to transportation differences, the design of highways, roadways, and streets provide an explanation for why Americans don’t walk for purpose rather than pleasure. There’s no real argument in saying that America heavily supports vehicle transportation. Just look around and count the number of cars in a neighborhood or on the streets. But one may notice that there are people outside walking or riding bicycles, however, how many are doing such activities to get to work, school, or a shopping mall? Take my university for example. It lies in a small town of roughly 24,000 people and the distance from on-campus to off-campus and vice versa is about a 20-minute walk. What is astounding is that most students who live off-campus opt to drive their vehicles to classes. Why? I would say it is because of the ease of arriving to class without having to wake up too early. Ultimately, driving is easy and less time consuming, but it is also expensive and in the case of my university, unnecessary.

My parents’ current obsession with walking has resulted in my mother choosing to walk home from work. It’s a commendable commitment and it’s doable since her job is only a 10-minute commute from home. But the stories of her walk home are interesting to note. The first day she started walking from work, her boss recognized her but didn’t stop. Instead, the next day at work she asked her if her car wasn’t working. The other day, her pastor and his wife pulled up next to her insisting on her taking a ride, but she refused. And on several occasions she has had public transportation buses slow down next to her and wait for her to ride, with her always brushing them on. What is the stigma with Americans walking instead of driving? With the astronomic gas prices, one would assume that more people would partake in alternative forms of travel.

What is even more startling is the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported an obesity trend study from 1985 ““ 2009 that showed the increase of obesity in America. According to the report, thirty-three states had a prevalence of obesity equal to or greater than 25% and only in Colorado and the District of Columbia was there a prevalence of obesity less than 20%. Moreover, this means that about 34% of Americans are obese.  Yet, in Spain, about 13% of people are obese.

My point is that obesity is obviously a problem in America and we can all recognize this due to how cities are operated and structured, from the plethora of fast-food restaurants to the length of workdays. It’s important that Americans, Europeans, everyone in general is physically active. My mom has this old Danskin shirt that reads, “Walk for the health of it,” and I want it to be encouraging for everyone my parents’ age or even my age. We all need to take control of our health and walking is the simplest way.

By Noëlle

I'm a senior at Miami University studying Journalism and English Literature. I am a huge fan of black-and-white movies, especially ones starring Clark Gable.

7 replies on “Walking For the Health Of It”

I walked to work every day when I lived in New Zealand. It was three miles each way and I just became really accustomed to it, and attached to the exercise.

When I moved back to the States I walked to work here and there and everybody seemed to think I was crazy. Since I owned a car, why would I want to walk? Even now, when I choose to walk or bike places instead of drive, I get weird looks from people. I like to walk. I go on hikes just for the fun of it. I park far away from stores to get a little exercise in. I’ve never gotten why some people find it so strange.

You’ve made me appreciate my medieval/Georgian European city, and I walked to work this morning!:)

It is definitely something I noticed in the US. I lived in Boston, which turned out to be my favourite city because I could walk around in it. No chance of that in Phoenix or LA or Miami.

I wouldn’t say, though, that cars are scarce in Europe. We have a lot of them – just they’re not so accessible to tourists, or visible in older cities where their use might be restricted. In Dublin, for example, Temple Bar and other areas are pedestrianised – partly because of the road surface (e.g.: cobblestones in Temple Bar) and partly to encourage shopping and foot traffic.

*gasps* You’re at Miami University? I graduated with my MA from there in 2009! Someday I will return on a pilgrimage to Steinkeller, the Bagel&Deli (Earth Day bagel!), and Phan Shin (Orange Chicken FTW!) I loved how Oxford had a decent bus system and I could simply walk to and from classes or hop on a bus. Compared to my older Alma Mater, Kansas State University, which in recent years decided to build an ugly parking garage on top of a parking lot, and charge a ridiculous fee for people to be able to use it. The kicker? since this would take a great deal of parking space out of commission during construction, they started up a temporary busing system. Idiots. They could’ve just created a busing system instead of blowing money on a garage that people would bitch about having to pay to use.

And yes, it is a remarkable difference between living in Wichita, Kansas and pretty much having to have a car to get around; and living/traveling in England and France where I can go most places on foot or hop on the underground/metro if I need to cover a large expanse of city. If I had to choose one word to describe it, it would be: liberating. I don’t have to worry about navigating vehicular traffic or parking spaces. If I want to go on a trip outside Cambridge to London or otherwise, I’m not stuck because I don’t have a car- I just buy a train ticket or a coach ticket and nap on the ride over.

I know that I don’t want to settle down in a city like Wichita, I’d much rather live someplace that enables me to walk for purpose or provides mass transit. Which gives me a very narrow pool of options in the U.S.

Ohhhhh Bagel & Deli. (Wham-O or Messy Katie, all the way!). And Steinkeller. And a toasted roll. I miss Oxford. Funny that we’ve got a few Miami grads here – I got my bachelor’s there, class of 2007.

Oxford was a really great walkable city, and the bus would get you any place that was too far to walk. That’s the one thing I miss – I have to drive everywhere now.

Unfortunately, I’m in Cleveland for the summer and now all I want to eat is Bagel & Deli (The L.A. Delight w/ bacon is my fave). Phan Shin’s Orange Chicken is all I order. I’m going to miss Oxford next year. I just cringe at the idea of having to pay gas weekly.

I’m an avid walker (and also obese, so…….), and it’s much easier to walk for purpose, as you put it, in urban centers. When I moved to Boston for college, I quickly got used to walking to get places or just for fun and it was not unusual for me to walk 2 or 3 or 4 miles in a day. When I moved back home for a year after college, I pretty much only walked to the driveway from the front door. I’ve lived in Chicago now for 5 years, and walking (in combination with public transportation) is once again a part of my daily life. When I lived closer to my job, I would often walk home in the evenings (it was about 3 miles), but I live too far away now to solely rely on walking as my mode of transportation. But it’s definitely something I love, and that I miss, even when I go home for short visits (my parent’s neighborhood doesn’t really have much in the way of sidewalks, so it’s hard to do much walking there).

Something I’ve noticed during European travels is how many more stairs they climb because there are fewer elevators and escalators. I remember climbing the steps out of one metro stop in Paris and feeling like I was climbing from the center of the earth and that my legs would give out before I finally surfaced.

When I walked up that huge-ass hill in Montmartre, then all those steps to the Sacre Coeur….My Lord, my heart was pounding so hard that the locket I was wearing was literally bouncing on top of my chest.

I think tomorrow I will start doing more walking around town….

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