These feet were made for walking — so why aren’t we doing more of it?
THE MORE I LEARN about walking, the more compelled I feel to walk.
I became a walker more than a year ago. Walking is simple and cheap, and like any movement or exercise routine, it took mental effort and commitment to build it into my day. Now, it is normal for me to walk 8,000 to 10,000 steps most days. I walked up to 20,000 steps in a day for this story, and once did a 20-mile walk, which felt like a major feat.
I have nothing on Edward Payson Weston.
Weston walked from New York to San Francisco in 1909, at the age of 70. I read about his walk in “The Last Great Walk” by Wayne Curtis; during Weston’s cross-country adventure, he sometimes walked 60-plus miles per day, often on railroad tracks.
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Between snippets detailing Weston’s considerable challenges, and an era that celebrated walking, Curtis also dives into the evolution of how humans began to walk, why we walk, and what it does for our bodies and minds. He notes that our genetic makeup, based on walking, was locked in thousands of years ago. Walking is highly efficient; we evolved to walk long distances.
But in the United States, we are walking less than ever. Paleolithic humans likely walked 8 to 12 miles a day, four to six times the distance the average American walks now, Curtis writes. Walking doesn’t take much energy, which can be the reason people choose more vigorous exercise. But studies show a link between walking more and weighing less. Walking is shown to improve memory and brain function, lessen anxiety and help maintain bone density. It is more effective than running. One study showed walking briskly for 30 minutes, five times a week, reduced the risk of dying prematurely by 20 percent.
Not walking “is one of the most radical things we’ve ever decided to do,” Curtis writes.