Why People Walk, Part 5: Exercise

Photo by Joe Reifer

More in this series: Art, Psychogeography, Car-free, Spiritual & Meditative

I did not originally imagine writing anything about the exercise aspects of walking because it seemed pretty obvious that one of the main reasons people walk is to get exercise. But then I remembered that at one point it wasn’t so obvious to me that walking was a way to stay fit. From about age 12 and through college and beyond, I did quite a bit of running for fun and exercise. Soon after college, while working for a nonprofit organization, I got to know a (I thought at the time) middle-aged woman who was a regular and enthusiastic volunteer for the group. She was active in race-walking, a competitive sport that involves walking very fast. One day I got a chance to look at some of her race result clippings, and was surprised to see her listed in the 70-79 age group! This was a turning point for me to realize that walking could be good exercise and to see an example of someone who — at least partially as a result of walking — was enjoying an active and rewarding retirement and had the energy to do volunteer work and pursue other interests later in life.

One of the great things about walking for exercise, one that is often brought up in articles about walking, is that it requires very little equipment; a good pair of walking shoes is a relatively low investment compared to most other athletic endeavors. If there are too many hurdles to jump through in terms of time and expense, exercise can seem like too much of a hassle for some people. On the other hand, people who enjoy gear and equipment have options for walking: headphones and music devices, walking poles, clothing made with technical fabrics, etc. I fall into the minimalistic category for walking, so I only in the past year or so had noticed step-counters and pedometers that tracks the number of steps a person walks. It appears that step walking has steadily been increasing in popularity and is often used as a motivational tool for starting a walking fitness program. It looks like 10,000 steps a day is often the goal of such programs, which is equivalent to about 5 miles. Additional fitness could be obtained by walking more steps and/or at a faster pace. At first I didn’t understand why one would track steps instead of distance or time, but now I realize that with steps it would be easier to figure out things like walking up stairs or totaling a bunch of smaller walks throughout a day. I doubt I’ll get one of these myself, though I do wonder just how many steps it takes to walk all of Berkeley…

Another aspect of walking for exercise is the treadmill. I have met a couple of people who enjoy walking on the treadmill indoors at the gym, but many more people find it to be incredibly boring. Here in Berkeley, it is a rare day that one would be forced indoors to a treadmill due to weather conditions, and walking outdoors is an option year-round. For those who do not enjoy gyms or cannot afford a membership, walking outdoors for fitness is an option here in the Bay Area with its usually mild climate. One of the coolest ideas I’ve heard of in terms of fitness programs is the Green Gym in England. The idea is to meet regularly to do volunteer work that is physically active, such as gardening or environmental conservation. The sessions start with warm-up exercises, and the participants get the benefit of both exercise and volunteering for their community! I think that the Green Gym is a great concept that could be combined with walking and applied here in Berkeley. I imagine starting at a transit-friendly meeting place, walking to the volunteer location as a warm-up, and then doing active volunteer work. This program would be a great collaboration with the Berkeley Partners for Parks, which amongst its member groups would offer opportunities for habitat restoration, creek cleanups, path-building, garden work, and much more. Walking to the locations would fit in with Berkeley’s climate action goals outlined in Measure G.

What if you really want to walk for exercise, but live somewhere that is unsafe or otherwise inhospitable to walking? If you work or go to school in a different neighborhood, you could take your walks from that location. Think about any other locations you visit regularly; could you walk in those places? Another option is to check the transit routes near where you live to see if you can ride the bus or train to a location that is better for walking. Coming soon, I will post some additional ideas about walking safety that have come up throughout the course of the Berkeley walk.



  1. Georgia said

    In part, I attribute my health to daily walks to and from the UC campus. By the way, the university has two walking programs: Bear Tracks through the rec centre and the Campus Walking Group through the health centre.

  2. […] my series about Why People Walk, I covered exercise in general and spiritual and meditative walking, but Andy’s correspondence made me realize […]

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