Walking is great! Most of us have heard that we should get 10,000 steps a day to maintain our health, but walking is more than just taking steps. Shane O’Mara in his book In Praise of Walking explores what walking is all about (hint: it’s everything that makes us human). It matters where we walk too, so be sure to get out into some nature for a meaningful walk instead of sticking to concrete.
O’Mara, a professor of experimental brain research at Trinity College in Dublin, writes in straightforward prose, methodically presenting research and studies in support of his thesis that walking has not only been crucial to human evolution but is essential to our health. Studies show that regular walking mobilizes changes in the structure of our brain that can increase volume in the areas associated with learning and memory. He dedicates a chapter to the science behind human navigation and describes how the selective memories of our wanderings are central components of our experiences and ability to make “maps of the world we have experienced.”
O’Mara argues that walking influences many aspects of cognition — how we think, reason, remember, read, and write. In particular, there is a vital relationship between movement of the body and the flow of thinking. “Since antiquity it has been recognized that a good walk is an excellent way to think problems through,” he writes.
Regularly walking and biking are good for one’s health, but did you know taking public transit is too? That’s right just by not taking a car to work like most North Americans you can be healthier. A simple life change can have a large impact on your life, plus by not using a car you can save the lungs of your neighbours and improve your city. Urban designers and doctors are starting to take this into consideration when talking about personal health and cities.
An efficient, affordable transit network is one key to better health. This can be as basic as a solid bus service, or can include a plethora of enhanced bus options and rail. Whatever the system, people who use transit “get more than three times the amount of physical activity per day than those who don’t,” just by walking to and from it, according to TransLoc – 19 minutes of exercise daily versus six minutes for those who don’t use transit.
Transit also reduces air pollution, making everyone healthier. Not to mention that city buses today often have cleaner engines than do cars.
Public transit also causes fewer accidents than individual cars, is far safer, is known to reduce stress, and improves the quality of life for vulnerable populations.
At the start of the year people tend to make resolutions that they don’t hold – like regularly going to the gym. The good news is that you can break your resolutions and be OK, as long as you do something. Instead of trying to go to the gym and workout just go for a walk. Don’t stress out by setting unattainable goals; stay relaxed and stroll your way to health.
“Weekend warriors” — adults who perform the recommended amount of 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous activity in one or two sessions per week — were found to have a risk of death from all causes about 30 per cent lower than inactive adults.
Researchers in England set out to investigate the risk of death from all causes, cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer was associated with physical activity patterns.
“I think it’s important to reassure people that if they are a weekend warrior, if they are only exercising once or twice per week, and it’s of moderate or vigorous intensity, then that’s good enough,” study author Gary O’Donovan, of Loughborough University, England, said in an interview.
The human population of the world is urbanizing, but some places are performing better than others. The key to making a good modern and productive city is to make it walkable. Design for people, not cars.
Over at BBC autos they took a look at what attracts smart people to the smartest cities and it looks like walkability is a driving factor.
For example, the top three cities in the study with the highest percentages of office, retail, and residential spots in walkable areas — New York, Washington, and Boston — had a lot of citizens age 25 and up who hold a least a bachelor’s degree. Washington had the most of those citizens in the entire study (51%), and Boston had third most (42%).
Big cities that topped the study’s list in GDP and education level have long been absent of the hallmarks of car-centric suburbia, like freeways and strip malls.
A new report written by a handful of doctors titled Improving Health Care by Design concludes that in order to have a healthy populace we need cities designed for health. There is nothing startling in the report but it does provide one more reference and tool for people to use inspire positive change in their own communities.
The results: if we want healthy people, we need to build healthy communities. This means, the doctors suggest, that our communities need to made more conducive to walking, cycling, and public transit. The report concludes with calls for “major changes” in community design across the GTHA.
These are not perhaps particularly novel observations, few would argue that more opportunities for physical activity leads to better overall health. But the report, written as it was by doctors, adds leverage to these ideas by attempting to quantify more specifically, the health effects of good community planning.