Six weeks after my daughter was born, my midwife asked me if I was getting any exercise. I confessed I wasn’t. I hadn’t figured out a new routine that included exercise, my old activities weren’t baby-friendly, I just didn’t have the time, and I wasn’t up for anything high-impact.
She recommended I try walking for 20 minutes a day.
“Oh that,” I said. “I do that.” As a car-free family with a baby too little to ride a bike, all we ever did anymore was walk – far more than 20 minutes most days. It just hadn’t occurred to me that it counted as exercise.
This “unintentional walking,” as walkability evangelist Chris Leinberger calls it, is the key to getting more people active. At a day-long conference yesterday on pedestrian advocacy, Jane Ward of the George Washington School of Public Health made this sensible point:
We can’t be successful with the majority of the population if walking is something stuck on to a list what people are already doing. I think most people know that they should be getting more exercise, but if they think they have to make time in their already too-busy day, they’re not going to do it.
So, I think to focus on the useful walk, and walking as active transportation that should have equal consideration in transportation planning, with all other modes of transportation, is the way that we will reach the most people.
Yesterday’s conference was sponsored by a diverse group: the health care provider Kaiser Permanente, the American College of Sports Medicine, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, Everybody Walk!, and America Walks. It was held at Kaiser’s DC headquarters, home to a huge, two-sided, interactive digital wall with information on walking.
Walking’s health connection can’t be overstated. “Being physically active is the most important thing all Americans of all ages and weights can do for health,” said Joan Dorn of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We recognize the benefits of all kinds of physical activity, but we picked walking as an area on which to focus because it’s something that almost all Americans can do.”