Skip to main content

Thoughts on National Walking Day

Exercising for 30 minutes every day helps reduce the risk of heart disease, and that's the principle behind the American Heart Association's National Walking Day on April 4th. On the website to promote the day, the organization lists many of walking's physical and mental benefits. We read there that walking can help improve blood pressure, reduce the risk of some cancers, lower the risk of stroke, maintain a healthy body weight, and enhance mental outlook. The association encourages people who are adverse to walking alone to seek out a friend, join a walking club, or invite along a "furry friend." Many walkers know the furry friend to be the most grateful of companions.

The association's list of walking benefits naturally focuses on health, but we can and we should enumerate additional reasons for venturing forth into the world on two feet. After all, trying to motivate sedentary people to exercise for the sake of exercising is sometimes frustrating, because it doesn't sound like a lot of fun. But let's stop and think. How weird is that, this very idea of urging people to walk?

Considering the many ways in which we use the activity as an idiomatic expression - walk the walk, walk a thin line, walk on air, walk with, walk through, walk off, walk away, etc. - we must understand that walking is not something extraordinary at all, something we should do as a form of "exercise," but essentially a human trait. Losing our ability to walk should then be met with aggressive social measures, such as vigorous enforcement of ADA accessibility guidelines. Yet, decades of car culture have alienated many of us from our feet, and the information age, with its gadgets and GPS devices, has displaced our abilities to navigate based on experience. So much for knowledge of the streets.

A leading pedestrian cultural theorist and walking practitioner, Will Self, noted a similar phenomenon in London in a recent article published in The Guardian titled "Walking is political." (March 30, 2012) A shorter version of his inaugural lecture as professor of contemporary thought at Brunel University, the essay sets out to describe and analyze the "psychotic state" of the typical urban walker. In contrast to a hundred years ago, when Londoners made most of their journeys under six miles on foot and presumably could orient themselves on the streets, Self observes, "the majority of urbanites, who constitute the vast majority of Britons, neither know where they are, nor are capable of getting somewhere else under their own power." On the other hand, a minority of active walkers, those who are heirs to the flâneur tradition of a hundred years ago, respect the power of physical geography. Self writes, "The contemporary flâneur is by nature and inclination a democratising force who seeks equality of access, freedom of movement and the dissolution of corporate and state control."

We started by talking about the health benefits of walking, and now we're ending with the politics of strolling. Walking for exercise, such as advocated by health associations, is different from the turtle-paced observational strolls of the flâneur. Walking for exercise is about stabilizing blood pressure and improving mood, resulting in healthy interior benefits. Walking to explore the city and meeting its individual citizens is a way of being alive and receptive to new experiences, heightening an awareness of the social and political forces that either limit or expand freedom.

While the two types of walkers seem altogether different, they could occasionally meet at a convenient intersection between personal health and urban democracy. Walkers out for hearty exercise in New York may want to take a cue from the flâneurs by observing places that could be improved for everyday walking needs. Flâneurs out for a stroll on the avenues may want to occasionally consider their own health needs and pick up the walking pace. If more people routinely took a walk, we would likely reap enormous social benefits, especially in the realm of public health.

As for everyone else, enjoy National Walking Day. Please get out of the car.

Stuck on the Park Avenue Malls
stuck on the Park Avenue median
 

Further reading:

• Will Self once walked from his home in London to Heathrow Airport, took the flight to New York, and upon arrival, walked from JFK Airport to his hotel nearby in Queens. The next morning, he resumed his journey by foot into Manhattan. Read his account in this extract from his 2007 book, Psychogeography: Disentangling the Modern Conundrum of Psyche and Place, published October 13, 2007 in The Independent (UK).

Related reading on Walking Off the Big Apple:

Toward a Pedestrian New York: The Future of a City on Two Feet.
For the 1,000th Post: A List of Lessons Learned.
• For health and exercise, including the distance it takes to walk off a pastrami sandwich, consult the page, Walking for Fitness.
• For those interested in walking in New York City anytime after National Walking Day, please consult the entirety of this website. A good place to start is the page NYC Self-Guided Walks (by Area).

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple.

Comments

Rob said…
Great article Teri. It annoys me daily to what extent we are becoming more and more dependent on the car (in the West at least).

I adore Will Self. His psychogeography series is wonderful; a real inspiration for getting bums off seats. The essay you speak of, when Self walks from London to Manhattan is one of my absolute favourite essays.
Warmest
Rob
Teri Tynes said…
Thanks so much, Rob. The essay by Self is one I love, too.
Yep, it's really a problem now for the younger generation of americans who just don't seem to like to think of a time they won't get to ride a car. I guess it's about some time the government really intervened and started getting more cars off the roads for longer periods and encourage (or order, maybe) the public to walk or ride a bike.

Popular posts from this blog

Editorial for Blog Action Day

I was so scared when I saw An Inconvenient Truth that I changed my prodigal ways. Today, Walking Off the Big Apple is participating in Blog Action Day, an event that challenges 15,000 or more people who are in a similar line of work to write posts about the environment. New York City will be in enormous trouble should the prevailing tide of climate change continue. I mean that literally. With the rise in sea levels, a strong storm surge would devastate many of the low-lying residential areas. Lower Manhattan would suffer enormous consequences but also parts of Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island would be affected. The warmer weather we've experienced here over the past few years is also likely to continue. Warm weather leads to more smog, pollution, and the likelihood of disease and asthma. I could get really sick just walking around. The economic impact of climate change would be serious. All the plans for new uses of the waterfront for housing and recreation would be a no-start

25 Things To Do Near the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

(updated 2016) The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) at 11 W. 53rd Street is near many other New York City attractions, so before or after a trip to the museum, a short walk in any direction could easily take in additional experiences. Drawing a square on a map with the museum at the center, a shape bounded by 58th Street to the north and 48th Street to the south, with 7th Avenue to the west and Park Avenue to the east, proves the point of the area's cultural richness. (A map follows the list below.) While well-known sightseeing stops fall with these boundaries, most notably Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the great swath of famous Fifth Avenue stores, cultural visitors may also want to check out places such as the Austrian Cultural Forum, the 57th Street galleries, the Onassis Cultural Center, and the Municipal Art Society. The image above shows an intriguing glimpse of the tops of two Beaux-Arts buildings through an opening of the wall inside MoMA's scu

25 Things to Do Near the American Museum of Natural History

After visiting the American Museum of Natural History, explore attractions on the Upper West Side or in Central Park. Visitors to New York often run around from one major tourist site to the next, sometimes from one side of the city to the other, and in the process, exhaust themselves thoroughly. Ambitious itineraries often include something like coffee in the Village in the morning, lunch near MoMA, a couple of hours in the museum, a ride on the Staten Island Ferry in the afternoon, cocktails at the midtown hotel, a quick dinner, and then a Broadway show. It's a wonder people don't pass out at the theater. While sitting on the steps of the American Museum of History, consider exploring the Upper West Side and nearby sites of interest in Central Park. There's a better way to plan a New York trip. Consider grouping attractions together geographically. Several posts on this site address this recommended approach. The Wild West of the Tecumseh Playground Groupin

25 Things to Do Near the Metropolitan Museum of Art

(updated) Sitting on the steps in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of those iconic things to do in New York City. On a sunny day, the wide steps can become crowded with the young and old, the tourist and the resident. It's tempting to stay awhile and soak in the sun and the sights. Everyone has reasons for lingering there, with one being the shared pleasure of people watching along this expansive stretch of Fifth Avenue, a painting come to life. Certainly, just getting off one's feet for a moment is welcome, especially if the previous hours involved walking through the entirety of art history from prehistoric to the contemporary. The entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue The Metropolitan Museum of Art should be a singular pilgrimage, uninterrupted by feeble attempts to take in more exhibitions along Museum Mile. Pity the poor visitor who tries "to do" multiple museum exhibitions in one day, albeit ambitious, noble, and uplift

Taking a Constitutional Walk

A long time ago individuals going out for a walk, especially to get fresh air and exercise, often referred to the activity as "taking a constitutional walk." The word "constitutional" refers to one's constitution or physical makeup, so a constitutional walk was considered beneficial to one's overall wellbeing. (Or, as some would prefer to call it, "wellness.") The phrase is more common in British literature than in American letters. As early as the mid-nineteenth century, many American commentators expressed concern that their countrymen were falling into lazy and unhealthy habits. Newspaper columnists and editorial writers urged their readers to take up the practice of the "constitutional" walk. One such essay, " Walking as an Exercise," originally printed in the Philadelphia Gazette and reprinted in New England Farmer , Volume 11, 1859, urges the people of farm areas to take up walking. City dwellers seemed to have the

Museums in New York Open on Mondays

Please see this post for current announcements of reopenings . Please consult the museum websites for changes in days and hours. UPDATED September 23, 2020 Advance tickets required for many museum reopenings. Please check museum websites for details. • The  Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)  reopened to the public on  August 27 , with new hours for the first month, through September 27: from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday to the public; and from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.  on Mondays for MoMA members on ly. Admission will be free to all visitors Tuesday through Sunday, through September 27, made possible by UNIQLO. See this  new post on WOTBA for a sense of the experience attending the museum . •  New-York Historical Society  reopened on  August 14  with an outdoor exhibition, "Hope Wanted: New York City Under Quarantine,” in the rear courtyard. The exhibit by activist Kevin Powell and photographer Kay Hickman will highlight how New Yorkers weathered the quarantine

The High Line and Chelsea Market: A Good Pairing for a Walk

(revised 2017) The advent of spring, with its signs of growth and rebirth, is apparent both on the High Line , where volunteers are cutting away the old growth to reveal fresh blooms, and inside the Chelsea Market, where new tenants are revitalizing the space. A walk to take in both can become an exploration of bounty and surprise, a sensual walk of adventure and sustenance. A good pairing for a walk: The High Line and Chelsea Market Walking the High Line for a round trip from Gansevoort to W. 30th and then back again adds up to a healthy 2-mile walk. Regular walkers of the elevated park look for an excuse to go there. Especially delightful is showing off the park, a model of its kind, to visitors from out of town. A stroll through Chelsea Market. Time check. If you haven't stopped into Chelsea Market lately, you may want to take a detour from the High Line at the stairs on W. 16th St. and walk through the market for a quick assessment or a sampling. Among the sampli

From Penn Station to New York Landmarks: Measuring Walking Distance and Time in Manhattan

(revised 2017) How long does it take to walk from Penn Station/Madison Square Garden to well-known destinations in Manhattan? What are the best walking routes ? What if I don't want to see anything in particular but just want to walk around? In addition to the thousands of working commuters from the surrounding area, especially from New Jersey and Long Island who arrive at Penn Station via New Jersey Transit or the Long Island Rail Road, many people arrive at the station just to spend time in The City. Some have questions. Furthermore, a sporting event may have brought you to Madison Square Garden (above Penn Station), and you want to check out what the city offers near the event. This post if for you.  The map below should help you measure walking distances and times from the station to well-known destinations in Manhattan - Bryant Park , the Metropolitan Museum of Art , the Empire State Building , Times Square , Rockefeller Center , Washington Square Park , the High Line

Museums in New York Open on Tuesdays

American Folk Art Museum , 45 W. 53rd St. Asia Society and Museum , 725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street) Guggenheim Museum , 1071 Fifth Avenue (at 89th St.) Pictured left International Center of Photography , 1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street The Metropolitan Museum of Art , 1000 Fifth Avenue NEW: Beginning May 1, 2013 MoMA will be open seven days a week. 11 W. 53rd St. The Morgan Library & Museum , 225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street Museum of the City of New York , 1220 Fifth Avenue New York University, Grey Art Gallery , 100 Washington Square East Mondays and Tuesdays are the hardest days to remember which museums are open. See the list for NY museums open on Mondays here .

14 Useful Mobile Apps for Walking New York City

Texting and walking at the same time is wrong. Talking on the phone while strolling down the street is wrong. Leaving the sidewalk to stop and consult the information on a cellphone, preferably while alone, is OK. What's on Walking Off the Big Apple's iPhone: A List Walkmeter GPS Walking Stopwatch for Fitness and Weight Loss . While out walking, Walkmeter tracks routes, time, speed, and elevation. This is an excellent app for recording improvised or impromptu strolls, especially with many unplanned detours. The GPS function maps out the actual route. The app keeps a running tally of calories burned while walking, useful for weight loss goals. Another welcome feature is the ability to switch over to other modes of activity, including cycling. An indispensable app for city walkers. $4.99  New York City Compass , designed by Francesco Bertelli, is an elegant compass calibrated for Manhattan, with indications for Uptown, East Side, Downtown, and West Side. While facing a cert