I have been involved in a lot of conversations about active transportation in the last few weeks. And about the reasons both kids and seniors may be less active than they would like. And Mount Alison University geograph Professor Leslie Kern talking about her book Feminist City (my copy is on order).
And far too many rants where cyclists were blamed for being struck by cars, articles were written about pedestrians hitting cars (the cars drove away – never the drivers – and the pedestrians were hospitalized). The worst was blaming an older man for daring to go for on walk on a bare sidewalk in regular shoes, after he broke his ankle when trying climb over a windrow left by a snowplow.
What if we designed our living spaces so that more of us that are enticed to walk, bike and take transit, because the more that they do, the better it is for everyone?
Women in Urbanism Canada points out that women make up more than half of Canada’s aging population, so building age-friendly cities must be gender-inclusive. Women are more likely to outlive their partners, live in poverty, earn less, own less property, and have children and grandchildren to care for. They are more likely to suffer from mobility-related disabilities and physical impairments. They may also outlive their ability to drive. They need affordable and well-connected public transportation, areas to exercise and socialize and homes that allow them to live, independently, and with easy access to services resources and community amenities.
And the city of Ottawa, in a zoning review paper currently under discussion notes that “the impacts of car-dependency are most acutely felt by women, youth, elderly people, low-income people, and people with disabilities, as these are all people who are less likely to have access to or afford personal vehicles. A mobility-rich neighbourhood is a 15-minute neighbourhood where kids can walk to school and recreation, where people have the option to run a quick errand on foot, and people of all incomes can affordably access their needs.”
So what would that activity-friendly neighbourhood look like? It would have public transit, wide sidewalks and bike spaces (maybe even car-free), with benches, bathrooms, trees for shade, meeting places and playgrounds, plus a variety of shops and services close to home.
For winter in Canada, I would add ploughed sidewalks and bike lanes. Sweden has already led the way on this. Following a gender analysis of its street clearing practices, Swedish cities began clearing sidewalks first, because they discovered that women were more likely to walk. There were three times as many injuries from falling on slippery streets as there were from driving, and the cost of treating those injuries far outweighed the city of snow clearing.
For millions of short journeys, the right tool for the job ought to be walking or cycling, but the way too many streets are designed makes this a difficult choice. Cars go too fast, there are no safe spaces for bicycles, and sidewalks have obstacles including high curbs, unsafe crosswalks, and buttons to beg for a pedestrian light that my not even be accessible to all users.
That’s a shame, because person on a bicycle can go three to four times faster than the pedestrian, but uses five times less energy in the process. Equipped with this tool, humans outstrip the efficiency of not only all machines but all other animals as well (Ivan Illich, Energy & Equity, 1973).
Brent Toderian, the former chief planner for the city of Vancouver, has written that “the recent Paris transformation of key streets to add bike infrastructure is intensely pragmatic – more mobility choice and more trips using a lot less space, lower public cost, lower emissions, less pollution, better public health, etc.”
All this infrastructure is not just a feminist concern. It can also have a real impact on our health. Recently there was a meta-analysis of the impact of moderate physical activity on health. According to the report I read, about one in ten deaths could have been prevented with a little as eleven minutes of moderate physical activity a day. I’ll leave it to Catherine Womack to assess the claims; why I thought was important for this blog was the final quote:
´Dr Leandro Garcia, of Queen’s University Belfast, emphasised that moderate activity did not have to involve what people normally thought of as exercise, such as sports or running. “For example, try to walk or cycle to your work or study place instead of using a car, or engage in active play with your kids or grandkids,” he said.´
Imagine if we had safe and accessible places to do that…
Diane Harper lives in Ottawa. She has been a commuter cyclist for over 20 years.
I walk Khalee every day. Sometimes we take long walks and sometimes it is just a quick jaunt around the neighbourhood.
Sometimes, I want to take a longer walk and she votes no, turning toward home at every opportunity.
All of these walks feel good for my brain and for my body but they don’t exactly feel like exercise.
Khalee, you see, has two speeds 1) sedate amble (to maximize sniffing possibilities) and 2) all-out gallop (to maximize speed for her and danger for me. I think the danger thing is an accidental side-effect or at least I hope it is.)
The sedate amble, with lots of pauses to do a complete sniffvestigation, is her usual speed but she might break out the all-out gallop if the path is especially snowy or if she sees that my husband has arrived home while we were out.
I enjoy the amble but I find myself wishing I could speed up a bit (without going all-out gallop) and get a bit of a workout in but I don’t want to make her rush. She is, after all, a dog, and sniffing is how she explores the world. And, of course, these walks are supposed to be about her, not about me.
On top of my wish to get in a little exercise while I am already moving, I find that, despite my desire to let her amble along and despite my attempts to be mindful about my walk, my ADHD brain sometimes starts grumbling about being borrrrrrrrred.
During one of our walks last week, my brain got especially whiny and I decided it was time to take things up a notch.
I didn’t want to speed up and risk putting Khalee into turbo mode (and myself in peril since her four legs give her way better balance at all-out speed) so I decided to make my slow walk a bit harder, really using the muscles in my legs to pull myself forward with every step instead of just strolling along.
(The nature of my efforts made me think of an 80s or 90s aerobics instructor saying ‘Create resistance. Imagine you are moving through mud.’ so I also managed to make myself laugh a bit in the process.)
At another point in the walk, I tried moving my arms a bit more deliberately. And I also changed our route a little so I had two hills to climb instead of just one.
As a result of these tweaks, my brain stopped whining about being bored AND I felt like I had gotten just a bit more exercise into my day. And that was on top of the generally good feeling I get from knowing that I am taking good care of Khalee and myself by being outdoors for a walk, whether it feels like exercise or not.
Now, I’m not saying that I am going to do this on every walk but on those days when I am feeling a little restless, when our walk feels slower than usual, or when my schedule is so tight that our walk might be my only chance to exercise, I will definitely find ways to work harder without making Khalee rush through her sniffvestigations.
After all, I wouldn’t want her to miss any details. They could be crucial when her case gets to court. 😉
Last week, I finished my medieval walking challenge. 183 miles over two months. By the end, it wasn’t even that difficult, despite the challenge of finding enough time.
Happily, my last big walk was 8 km in late medieval Flemish clothing, while at an event in the pretty town of Campbellford Ontario.
So now what? I am definitely back into walking, in a way I haven’t been for ages. I did a Challenger walk last year. Kirsten likes them but they aren’t really for me.
I think I’ll start doing Volksmarches again. Volksmarching is a popular walking activity that started in Germany in 1968. When I lived there as a teen and young adult, they were a great way to visit villages and the countryside throughout much of Europe.
These walks, usually with either 10 or 20 km distances were deliberately non-competitive, and usually ended with a big tent serving sausages on a bun, fries and even beer. Often there would be an oompah band.
Everyone participated, as most were very accessible. For a while I did two a day – running a 10 km with an older family friend, then walking a second 10 km with his wife and young kids. I distinctly recall being passed by little old ladies still dressed in their church clothes and sensible shoes, with a handbag on their elbow.
I nearly missed my high school graduation because I was desperate to get three walks in that day, and ended up several hours from home (in the pre-internet days, I had literally pieced together a route by finding upcoming events on three separate flyers with little maps, not drawn to scale).
Why do that? Like the Challenger walks, there was bling. You kept a little booklet that got stamped with your distance. Every time you did the required distance (minimum 500 km), you would mail it off for a hat pin and badge to sew on your vest or backpack. Plus there were completion medals you could collect, reflecting local history, clubs, landmarks, festivals or agriculture.
When I moved back to Canada, volksmarching was in its infancy here, but I participated in quite a few events. Then I got busy, and stiff, and out of touch. I’m ready to give it another go now.
Over time, the Canadian sport has evolved. There are shorter walks for people who don’t feel up to doing 10 km. Medals have fallen out of fashion. In many cities, you can do self-guided walks and stamp your booklet yourself, using the honour system. Canada isn’t alone in that; I once spent four days in London, sightseeing on foot via the four volksmarch maps I downloaded before traveling.
You can find more about upcoming walks in Canada using this link. From there you can also connect to clubs in other countries.
It turns out I could have done a slightly different walk that day in Campbellford and gotten credit for it. I’ll remember for next time. And Kirsten, there is a club in Kingston, along with three year-round walks. Maybe I can join you for one this summer?
Have you ever been part of a walking club, or volksmarched? What appeals to you? What would make it better?
Some people start fitness challenges in September, the start of the school year that somehow feels like the real start of the year to many of us. Others go with the more traditional January start. It appears I like April. I wrote about it last year.
This year my workplace is doing an activity challenge for the month. It doesn’t have to be walking, but that happens to fit with another challenge I’m also doing. I like the fact that getting enough sleep and drinking plenty of water are also goals.
The other challenge is with one of my medieval groups, where we are aiming to walk 183 miles by the end of May. Why 183 miles? I have no idea! There is probably a very logical reason that I have forgotten, or missed completely in my enthusiasm to join up. Whatever.
The challenge works out to about 5 km a day for me. I used to do 10 km walks regularly, but haven’t done one in at least 15 years.
Sometimes I go out late in the evening, and catch the light near dusk. I am lucky enough to live near two large rivers, so there is always plenty to see.
I feel blessed to live in a walkable part of the city, with a real variety of landscapes.
I don’t do 5 km absolutely every day, but I am getting the distance done each week. My walks are getting longer, I am going into the office as an excuse to knock off an easy 6 km, and on Easter weekend I walked for 10.6 km.
Best of all, the chronic hip flexor pain is gone. Apparently I needed to get out of my chair a lot more than I realized. And I am learning to enjoy my own company, just wandering and admiring the views.
And, yes, there is truly a month or a week or at least a day for everything. Maybe that fact makes you a bit meh about all of these sorts of declarations (and that’s fair!) but I kind of like the idea of finding something to celebrate on any given day.
Maybe I am not going all in for National Garlic Day today, I haven’t planned any celebrations for Coin Week this week, and I don’t even think I have the required millinery to celebrate Straw Hat Month but I *am* strongly pro-fun so I vote yes on anything that brings a little levity to your day-to-day.
ANYWAY, back to the celebration at hand.
Apparently Active Dog Month was started by Natasha at Om Shanti Pups but I didn’t delve too far into the history of this auspicious month, so I can’t be sure of its origins. However, I do know that she has some good posts on keeping your dog active so check those out for some ideas.
There’s a fair amount of dog talk here on the Fit is a Feminist Issue blog (a while ago, Sam compiled some of them into a post here) so I thought it would be fun to get a few of our bloggers to chime in about dogs and exercise.
I no longer own a dog. I like being able to travel and not worry about boarding. When I had a dog, I always resented having to take him out for long walks when I was trying to get ready for work, or it was time for bed. But I love dogs, and enjoy a moment of interaction as many as possible while out walking, even if it is just a quick whispered “who’s a good pup?” as we walk in opposite directions.
I do not have a dog, but I walk/hike semi-regularly with two friends’ dogs, Ellie and Ricky. I notice a heightened, vicarious enthusiasm for walking while with a dog. With a dog, the walk seems more interesting, perhaps because humans and dogs find different things interesting while walking. There is a sense of companionship and satisfaction when walking with a dog that even some non-dog owners notice. Is there a difference between dog walking and walking while with a dog? Dog owners probably know.
Cheddar is around the blog a lot. The blog turns 10 this summer and Cheddar is 7 so there’s a lot of overlap! These days Cheddar is the reason I’m out walking at all. While waiting for total knee replacement, both knees, I’m not a fan of walking even though it’s good for me. It hurts. But Cheddar gets me out there three or four times a week. He’s lucky that I’m not the only person who walks him. I’m lucky he’s excellent at adjusting his pace to the person walking him. He’s also a most excellent yoga dog, though unlike Adriene’s Benji he’s not good at staying off the mat so he gets his own.
Walking Lucy has become my partner and my touch point time before work, on our lunch break ,and after dinner during the week. Our youngest kid is 20 and regularly takes Lucy out solo but also subs in for one of us if cooking, work or other exercise needs my time.
Since the walks have to happen I’m out way more consistently and for longer than I’ve ever been before.
Back to Christine:
Whether we are walking our dogs or they are walking us, at least everyone has the chance to get some movement into their days.
I am intrigued by Elan’s comment about companionship and about the difference between walking a dog and walking with a dog. When my kids were small, I used to love going for a walk and pushing the stroller – more often than not I would be yammering away to them and they would be asleep! And as much as I enjoy walking on my own, I had missed the feeling of pushing the stroller.
I thought that I was missing the extra effort that the stroller required, that my brain needed the extra work to calmly stay on task instead of filling up with other ideas about what I should be doing. (ADHD brains have a knack for that kind of thing.)
I don’t think that I really considered it before now but I think that walking Khalee gives me a lot of the same feeling that walking with the stroller did. There’s a larger purpose to my walk and I have company (which, as many people with ADHD will attest, makes almost any task more doable.)
So, now that I think about it, I definitely know the difference between walking a dog and walking with a dog, and I am doing the latter.
I’m not walking Khalee, we are walking together. I do most of the talking and she does most of the sniffing – everyone working to their strengths, you know?
And maybe her blog posts are all about hoping that I am getting enough exercise this month.
She started out subtly 😉 glancing back from the door
But when I stood up, she began to implore…
“Come on, Christine, it’s time for a walk.”
Well, I imagined her saying it, if she could talk.
In a few minutes of walking, with deep breaths of fresh air.
I began to feel better, my brain started to clear,
Now, Khalee’s to-do list was short, and she sure took her time,
Sniffing and scouting to see what she could find.
As she ambled along following all her dog plans,
I came to realize I was in good doggy hands.*
By getting me outside, making me breathe the fresh air,
Khalee had banished brain clutter and helped make my thoughts clear.
As we headed to the bridge on the way back to our home,
I shaped my blog thoughts into this Pete-ish poem**
And then I filled it with photos of good Khalee pup,
to divert your attention from where I messed up.
So, my dear friends, if you are scattered, if your brain’s filled with bees,
Please take Khalee’s advice and walk to find ease.
You don’t need to move quickly, an amble will do,
It really helped me, may the same go for you.
*Er, paws are kind of hands, right?
**Pete is my Dad. Back in the day, he wrote this kind of light-hearted foolishness for birthday cards and office Christmas parties. I learned poetry-writing from an engineer, that should explain a few things.
I think I am developing a new Sunday habit – a walking chat.
Or maybe a chatting walk?
Either way, I’m having a great time catching up with friends while we walk along various trails in my community (and near by.)
In the Before Times, I probably would have just waited until we could swing a time to sit down together in someone’s house or a cafe and we’d catch up on each other’s lives while we snacked and drank tea.
I’m still strongly pro-snack (and pro-tea) but here in the During Times I don’t find it as relaxing to be in cafes or even in other people’s homes. I’ve met a few people for tea – sometimes on patios and sometimes inside – but I’ve also missed seeing a lot of people who I would normally catch up with in person every few months.
Recently, my friend Elaine wanted to bounce a few ideas off of me and I was about to suggest that we meet on Zoom on Sunday morning when I impulsively suggested that we meet for a walk instead.
As I was starting out on my ideas walk with Elaine that Sunday, my cousin Sheri, who I haven’t seen in ages, texted me about walking with her later that day. I jumped at the chance for two walks and two chats and I really had a relaxing, connected-feeling Sunday as a result.
This past week, my friend Sandy and I realized that we had gone too long without a chat and decided that this Sunday, we would take our conversation on the road. (Ok, so it was actually a path but it had the same effect.)
We did an hour’s walk and crammed in about 3 hours of conversation. I suspect that anyone overhearing us thought we were on fast- forward 😉
And, once again, my Sunday found me feeling relaxed and connected.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’d still love to cozy into a chair with my hands wrapped around a cup of tea and have in-depth conversation but right now those conversations aren’t as relaxing as they once were. I get distracted by the ambient anxiety of living in our Covid-world.
And Zoom chats are good but they can’t fully replace being in someone’s comforting and invigorating presence.
Walking to catch up is the perfect solution for me. I get to have a bit more movement in my day, I get to actually SEE my friends and, we get to have the sort of wandering and satisfying conversations you can really only have in-person.
I’m definitely making plans to do this regularly and catch up with everyone I have been missing.
Ok, full disclosure: *I* was doing a walking meditation.
Khalee was just walking and sniffing everything and deciding where to pee…which is being really in the moment, I guess so she’s got this mindfulness thing sorted already.
I usually set out for my walk with one earphone in, using my walking time to hear some cool podcast stories that I would forget to make time to listen to otherwise.
Today, though, my mind was busy and I didn’t think I could focus on a story. So, I decided to try a new walking meditation that I bought last week.
I’ve tried to do walking meditation before, figuring that the movement would help me focus, but I found it was the opposite. Trying to make myself think about how my feet were landing, over and over, was enough to make my brain want to crawl out of my skull.
(Note: I have only tried two walking meditations before and they were both really foot-focused. Perhaps that was an unfortunate coincidence and most aren’t like that.)
Last week, thanks to a tweet from someone with ADHD requesting ideas for meditation, I came across a walking meditation from Anna Granta, an ADHD Coach from the UK.
I figured that a meditation from an ADHD coach would be a bit more tailored to someone with ADHD, and I was right!
For starters, she has a great voice. Lots of meditation leaders have voices that grate on my nerves but Granta’s is sensible, even, and friendly.
The meditation is short – less than 5 minutes from start to finish, including instructions.
And it’s very practical – leading the listener to tune into what they could see, hear, smell, and feel while they walked.
And once it was done, I kept my podcast off for the rest of my walk, noticing the sounds, smells, and the details of the sights around me.
It was a short practice but it was really refreshing. And it would be easy to do in the future.*
I returned from my walking feeling like I had untangled a knot in my brain.
Neurotypical people or those with an established meditation practice might find this practice too short or too quick but my ADHD brain loved it. It was short enough to feel doable, long enough to calm down a bit, and clear and inviting enough that I could keep practicing even after the audio finished.
I’ll definitely be using this meditation in the future. Not for every walk, because sometimes hearing a story is exactly what I need in a given moment, but I love having it close at hand for when my brain needs to smooth out a bit.
Khalee’s walking meditation was also successful. She left the house untroubled, returned the same way, and just walked when she was walking and sniffed while she was sniffing. She’s a mindfulness expert, really.
*Her instructions are clear and now that I have followed it once, easily done on my own even without the recording. I will still go back to it, though, to help me ease into the process.