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.