6 Good Reasons to Walk for the Earth’s Health and Yours
Nowadays, it seems like nearly everyone is in a hurry. For most of us, the fastest mode of transportation in our everyday lives is by private automobile. Public transportation is less than ideal in many of our cities, and in most rural areas practically nonexistent. We shouldn’t be surprised by the University of Michigan’s findings that only 5% of Americans regularly take public transportation to work, while over 75% rely on driving alone.
Convenience, time pressure, or habit may drive us to take a car nearly everywhere, even if it’s only a few blocks away. For those in good health who live in urban areas, there are likely to be lots of opportunities for using walking as transportation. Perhaps you can walk to the library, the grocery store, or a friend’s house, while reaping health and financial benefits that can make up for the extra time it takes. Here are some of the benefits:
- Protect the environment. Up to 75% of carbon monoxide pollution in the U.S. is caused by motor vehicles. A gallon of gasoline weighs about 6.3 pounds, and total combustion of this fuel with oxygen produces about 20 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per gallon. If your car’s fuel economy is 20 mpg, then driving 12,000 miles per year will produce up to 7 tons of carbon dioxide. For each mile you walk or bike instead, you can save 1 pound of carbon emissions! You can use the EPA’s Carbon Footprint Calculator to estimate your total carbon footprint, and Carbonify’s calculator to estimate how much of it is due to driving alone. Make every mile count, for the earth!
- Improve your own health and well-being. Frequent walking may reduce your risks of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, and more. It has also been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, help prevent arthritis, and boost immune function. Dr. Tudor-Locke, professor of kinesiology at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, recommends walking briskly at a rate of at least 100 steps per minute. Brisk walking can even be considered an aerobic exercise and counts towards the CDC’s Physical Activity Guidelines for optimal health.
- Save money on fuel and car maintenance. At the time of writing this article, Gasbuddy showed that regular gas prices per gallon averaged $3.28 in California and $3.48 in the city of San Francisco, compared to a national average of $2.28. MSU Extension estimated the average total cost to drive a small sedan was nearly $0.60 per mile, and for a large sedan or SUV nearly $0.98 per mile.
- Save money on parking. Parking costs average around $350 per month in San Francisco garages, and daily and hourly rates can be even higher! If you do need to park but can find cheaper parking a few blocks further from where you need to go, simply allow yourself enough time, arrive early, and then walk the extra mile. You can revel in the satisfaction of saving money for a good cause.
- Be more social — walk and talk! Walking naturally affords more opportunities for face-to-face human interaction than driving. University of Michigan researchers suggest that social interactions are partly responsible for why exercise makes people happier and boosts self-esteem.Researchers found significant psychological benefits to walking outdoors, whether alone or with a friend. For walks in nature, walking alone was most psychologically beneficial, while in urbanized areas, walking with a companion was better. Fortunately, the Bay Area offers plenty of opportunities for both kinds of walks.
- Be more productive. One company noticed a 30% boost to its productivityafter simply requiring its employees to take two 15-minute walks daily during work. Steve Jobs and other entrepreneurs even claim that one-on-one walking meetings are the most effective type of business meetings. A Stanford University study found that while walking does not necessarily improve “focused thinking” — such as the type necessary for test-taking — even non-aerobic walking does stimulate “divergent thinking” and increases creative output by 60 percent versus sitting.
If you’d like to go for a walk with a doctor, check out Walk with a Doc, an innovative health outreach program in which a doctor gives a brief talk to a group and then leads them on a fun walk outdoors. Walk with a Doc has over 400 chapters across the U.S., including 7 locations in the Bay Area; many of these meet monthly on Saturday mornings at hospitals and other health organizations. Find a Walk to join near you here.
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