Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
Consider this an open letter to everyone from gym bunnies to couch potatoes. I am not a health professional, nor am I a marathon runner, a college athlete, or a super-bendy yogi bear. But I am a human being with two legs and a decent amount of common sense. Listen up, readers, let me tell you a secret: If you weren’t already aware, there’s this hot new fitness craze that everyone should jump on. It’s called walking.
Please permit me to climb up onto my soapbox for a minute or so, here. I’ll start off by talking about myself. For years, I walked everywhere. Three miles to work in the morning, and three miles back at night. Three miles from the train station to my mom’s house. Three miles from the train station to my dad’s house. It’s not like I wasn’t aware that people drove places, but I was so used to the idea of walking everywhere that I was perfectly content to do so.
And then … and then I moved to America. America, where my roommate was shocked that I’d even consider walking the 30 minutes or so to class from our apartment each day. America, where people are more likely to drive two blocks down to the pool in the summer than get up and walk there. America, where my co-workers are forever baffled that I would walk the mile to work each day. Genuinely baffled.
… And this genuinely baffles me.
Having gone from a place where to walk from A to B was a perfectly normal daily activity, to a place where it generally is not, it has begun to strike me just how paradoxical the American relationship with health and fitness is. As a society, we are stuck in a bizarre, hypocritical culture where we are shamed into Being Healthy, but we’re also wholly dependent on our cars and thoroughly averse to walking places. We are a society that is obsessed with dieting, with “health”, with “fitness” … but we are also a grossly inactive society. We see adverts for pills that promise to “burn” fat and workout DVDs to “blast” tums and bums, so naturally we’re more inclined to take what appears to be the hardline, Quick-Fix approach than gently altering our lifestyles to be more active overall.
After all, if you need groceries, it’s easier to take the car for your carton of organic almond milk than it is to just amble home with it in a backpack. It’s easier to drive to the gym after work, pay an extortionate amount of money for a membership you hardly use, walk/jog on a treadmill for a little while, and then drive home. Or maybe you’re one of those Healthy People™ who milk their membership for every cent that it’s worth. Either way, if it’s not crazy far away, why don’t you just save someone else a parking space and walk there in the evenings?
Why? Oh, there’s always an excuse, isn’t there: It’s raining. It’s hot. It’s cold. The traffic is bad. I don’t have enough time. “It’s a cultural thing.” … To which I narrow my eyes and say, get an umbrella. Wear less clothes. Wear more clothes. No, it isn’t. Yes, you do. And even if you’ve been brought up to believe that driving here, there and everywhere is standard: I’m telling you right now, it shouldn’t be.
We need to realize that there is a big difference between working out and living an active lifestyle. The latter, of course, being the secret to lifelong health.
For all you calorie-crunchers out there, listen up: walking for 30 minutes burns 100 calories (for a 130-lb female). That could be your walk to work, a daily post-dinner dog walk, a stroll up to Starbucks… whatever it is, it works within your lifestyle. It does. In a Guardian article about the benefits of daily walking, certified fitness professional Jolynn Baca Jaekel explained: “What I love about walking is that anyone can do it at any age and any fitness level. Plus it is good for your heart, your head and your wallet.” Walking is less stressful for the body than, say, running—not that you shouldn’t be running, don’t hate on me, health trolls—and is an effective, but much more gentle, overall body toner and calorie burner. And: it’s free.
You don’t have to be an Ent to lumber over long distances; you just have to have a pair of legs. It’s as simple as that. If it’s going to take you a bit longer to get to your destination, then leave earlier. Just because you’re not strolling around a pretty park or a shopping mall, just because you might sweat a little, there’s no excuse not to. I’m not that obnoxious, Nike-clad Insta-fitso-princess who’s here to tell you that you’re a crappy human for not having a six pack. But, honestly, if you can’t get off your behind and walk to the 7-11 down the street when you run out of Cheez-Its… then yes, yes, that is deeply irksome. Sometimes, I’m quite certain that most people wouldn’t get up and walk a couple of miles even if I told them there was a castle made from white fudge Oreos at the end.
Ultimately, all it comes down to is that you don’t need all the superfluous gumf you’ve been sold on for so long to remain healthy. You don’t need to wait ’til you can afford a FitBit and a new pair of neon running shoes, ’til you’re feeling fly enough to pay another $60 a month for the gym. Your daily workouts don’t mean sh*t if you’re not supporting them with an all-round active lifestyle. Don’t sit around and wait for some new fitness craze to (ahem) step up your game: Just whack on a pair of old sweatpants, take some deodorant, find a place to go—or not go—and just walk.