A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away … I was a runner. And everything I did revolved around that fact; what I ate, when I ate, sleep patterns, training schedules – even social engagements were all dictated by my training.
I worked at a running store at the time, and aside from wearing shorty shorts and obnoxious running shoes, one of my biggest faults was having such a myopic view of health and wellness. And as a runner, that meant there was nothing worse than walking.
Funny how things can change.
Today, walking is part of my daily ritual, whether it be in the form of hill repeats for fitness, strolling through the park for relaxation, or simply as a means of transportation for daily errands. It’s an opportunity to disconnect from the digital world for a while and get some fresh air. In that sense it captures my attention the same way running once did.
Still, there seems to be a stigma connected to walking (and other recreational activities like neighborhood cycling), inside and outside of fitness circles. The highly fit may see it as a waste of time, while the unfit may never really consider it as a means of improved health.
I’m still stunned when I see fit, able-bodied people drive instead of walk or bike to places like the neighborhood coffee shop. Regardless of fitness level, we seem to forget that there are other ways to move around our city beyond climbing into an automobile. Just check out this graphic to see how your fellow citizens are getting around town…
Pretty amazing, yes?
Granted, time can sometimes be a concern. But if you walk, even an errand two miles away should only take you about 30 minutes. That’s not so bad.
And the benefits of walking? There are so many, that instead of list them all, I’ll let this very serious man in a suit tell you all about them. (Bonus points if you drink every time he says the word ‘walking.’)
So you see, you don’t have to wear lycra bodysuits, or funky running shoes to improve your health. You can simply get out and move.
And that’s really the message here: whether you’re fit or sedentary, consider walking your next neighborhood errand. Consider taking your bike (or renting a B-Cycle) instead of your car. Those simple measures may not have a huge impact on your fitness level if you’re already an athlete, but they do offer a huge health improvements for the more sedentary population.
Fit or not, if you need more motivation, think of it as a means of stress reduction, being environmentally friendly, and saving some wear and tear on your car and on our city streets.
The good news is that there’s now more resources available to anyone wanting to walk or bike. More biking lanes, more walking trails, and more groups and clubs in the city for support, like San Antonio Walks, a free program whose mission is to get more people walking in our city.
“We have about 62 walking groups around the city, with more than 400 walkers, across all demographics,” says Bert Pickell, Director of San Antonio Walks. “We really want to develop sustaining, long-term relationships with our participants, and now we’re at the point where we’ve developed so many areas of opportunity, that we now have people contacting us wanting to get involved.”
There’s also Scott Ericksen and Lydia Kelly at the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). While the MPO has a much broader agenda (namely, helping agencies plan and allocate federal and state gas tax money toward transportation needs) they’re also active in bicycle and pedestrian safety, creating “complete streets,” and walkable communities.
Alongside the Sustainability Office‘s San Antonio Bikes program, managed by Julia Diana, the MPO has been involved in community awareness of these issues and helping with the development of additional bike paths. Between 2000 and 2012 more than 200 miles of bicycle facilities have been added within the MPO’s boundaries, an increase of approximately 588%.
“The momentum has already begun to make San Antonio a great bicycling and pedestrian friendly city,” says Ericksen, Senior Public Involvement Coordinator. “What is required now is continued political and financial support to build the bicycle and pedestrian networks.”
Aside from the social and health benefits, the advantages of improving our biker/walker infrastructure include reduced traffic congestion, improved air quality, better energy conservation and increased retail sales for local businesses.
According to Kelly, Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Planner for the MPO, the major complaints she gets from motorists is that cyclists and pedestrians don’t follow the rules of the road (they tend to run red lights and stop signs), and that they simply aren’t visible to motorists.
“Motorists expect other cars on the road, but they generally aren’t expecting to see cyclists or walkers,” she says. “Aside from following the rules of the road, make sure wear reflective gear or lights, and make yourself visible.”
So let’s get out there, people. And when you do, try to be respectful about it.
Tom Trevino is a writer, artist and wellness coach based out of San Antonio. His column, “The Feed,” addresses health and fitness issues and dispense practical advice for San Antonians attempting to wade through the often-confusing diet and fitness world. He holds a B.A. from the University of Texas, with training and certification from the Cooper Institute. He has a fondness for dogs, the New York Times, and anything on two wheels. When he’s not writing, training, or cooking, you can find him wandering the aisles of Central Market.