Walking shouldn’t be weird

The scene is a hotel in a large American city. I’m at a conference and heading out the front door to run an errand and meet colleagues at a restaurant down the road. I’ve Googled the directions, looked at the map, timed it all out, and put on my comfortable walking shoes. The only thing I need to know leaving the hotel is whether to turn left or right.

I shouldn’t have asked.

“Where are you walking to?”

I give the address.

“That’s too far to walk.”

No, it’s not. I’ve got the map. And Google says it’s 31 minutes away.

“That’s a long way.”

I want the exercise.

“But it’s cold and it’s raining.”

<Fact: It’s 6 degrees Celsius.>

I’m from Canada. This is warm. And it’s just mist. And I’ve got my umbrella.

“Okay then.”

The concierge shakes his head disapprovingly.

Now to be clear I don’t think this is an American versus Canadian thing. I’ve had similar reactions from hotel staff in Winnipeg and Calgary.

In New York walking would be normal. In Chicago walking downtown would be fine. In Toronto and Montreal, ditto. You walk.

But some cities culturally aren’t walking cities. Walking shouldn’t be weird.

See The US Surgeon General’s Call to Make Walking a National Health Priority.

The U.S. Surgeon General is calling on Americans to “step it up” — that is, to do more walking. He says this easy and free activity could prevent serious health problems.

On Wednesday, Dr. Vivek Murthy launched the “Step It Up” campaign in Washington, D.C., a national effort to promote walking and wheelchair rolling. He calls it a powerful tool to prevent chronic health problems.

“The science tells us that 22 minutes of brisk walking or moderate physical activitycan get you these health benefits of reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes,” Murthy explained.

And I love, love, love that he’s including wheelchair rolling in this campaign. Yay for inclusive fitness!



15 thoughts on “Walking shouldn’t be weird

  1. Hmm. DC is by all measures one of the most walkable and walking oriented cities in the country. I think you just had a lazy, nosy concierge who probably commutes in from the burbs for work.

  2. Having lived in and visited mostly walking-friendly cities while at conferences, being in a not-walking friend city can be jarring. I was at a conference in San Antonio a few months back and was shocked how unsafe it was to walk even in the downtown core. I attempted to visit the art gallery one afternoon – a mere 10-15 minute walk from the major hotels downtown – and was shocked at the extent to which the people just disappeared within a block of that strip. After a man slowed down his vehicle and clicked his tongue at me, I called an uber and took one even short distances for the remainder of the trip. All of the uber drivers with whom I spoke said that the city was not walk friendly outside of the downtown core.

    1. I don’t have a car and I lucked out with a condo within walking distance of a superstore and good transit. (In Winnipeg better than some places.)

  3. Vancouver BC is quite walkable and one wants to walk, because it’s beautiful …fresh Pacific ocean air and view of local mountains tightly encircling the city.

    Since I live in Calgary so Sam, I can’t resist responding here: huge parts of Calgary are carbound. Downtown is dead after business day hrs. Very different from Toronto, Vancouver. Change has been awfully slow…the City is working towards walkable, cycleable neighbourhoods…but only certain areas. A real culture change takes a long time.

    When looking at condo to buy, my real estate agent was shocked that I didn’t have a car. And home is only 4 km. from work. I thought he was crazy since anyone living downtown in Toronto or Vancouver would walk, bike or if lazy (sometimes I am) take transit.

    I rent out my parking stall.

  4. Sorry to hear you got the same reaction in Winnipeg. I live there and got the same reaction. Some parts of Winnipeg are car only and it really irks me as people worry about people’s overall health. If you want health to improve, don’t make the gym the only way to do it. Hope you had a great walk that day.

  5. So true. I did the same just recently in Salt Lake City (the locals were surprised I wanted to walk), although as an Aussie, the -1 C temp was way lower than I was used to. I thought it was all part of the adventure. A half hour walk in those temperatures marvelling at the pretty city covered in snow – magic! A memory I will never forget.

  6. For 7 1/2 months, all I could do was walk for exercise as I was wearing a neck collar from a neck injury. I walked 40 mins to an hour a day. Sure it wasn’t running or HIIT, but I was happy to continue being active despite my injury! I live in the central part of Québec City and just walked everywhere!

  7. If the city is DC (as Rebecca notes above), I’m surprised! I walk from Georgetown U to Gallaudet U fairly often (about a 4.5 mile trek) and there are numerous pedestrians on the whole route at just about any time of day/night. But a while back I was in Louisville Kentucky and had a similar experience to yours — I was told that 2 miles was too far to walk! (It makes me wonder about a possible kickback from taxicab companies, though I suspect that the cultural explanation is probably more likely…) Did you enjoy your walk?

    1. It may be because Louisville has a crime problem, especially downtown. A hotel employee or similar may not have wanted to say so, but I live outside of Lexington, KY, and am quite careful about where I park, visit and walk when I visit Louisville – sorry to say!

  8. Chicago, 2011 – I take the train downtown from my hotel to pick up my marathon race packet.
    Me: “Which way to the McCormick Center?”
    Station attendant (points): “But it’s a long walk – 8 or 9 blocks. You may want to take a bus.”
    Me: “I’m running the marathon tomorrow.”
    Attendant: “You can walk it.”

  9. I live in a Dallas suburb and no one walks anywhere here. I hate that… I have to drive all the time. Driving isn’t horrible but I hate that I have to do it for everything. Sometimes I wish I could live in New York and walk everywhere. When I was in New York I found it fun to walk places. Plus there’s no risk of getting into a car accident

  10. You would love New Zealand then. In my opinion the transport system is terrible, so that means you have to walk long-ish distances (10-15mins minimum) if you don’t have your own car, but because of that, its and extremely walking friendly country!!! It has its pros and cons though. It’s great exercise (Auckland is very hilly) but very inconvenient to get from one place to another!! (From where I live anyway).

    1. I miss New Zealand. Loved all the walking I did there. I spent my last sabbatical in Dunedin at the University of Otago. And you’re right. I walked a lot.

      1. You’ve been here? Awesome! It’s a great place right! Staying fit is really easy when you have to walk everywhere hahaha. You should visit Auckland one day! I’d love to come and visit America sometime though. It would be interesting to see what it’s like there!

  11. I concur! Walking shouldn’t be weird. I get the same reactions when I tell people that in the summer (or really, when the cold isn’t too bad) the baby and I walk to the grocery store together. The grocery store is 2.5km from our home. They look at me like I am walking to the moon… !

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