It is odd to the point of surreal to think of walking as a form of exercise –but these are the times we live in. When humans developed the ability to transport ourselves rapidly and for long distances on two legs, it was a momentous turning point in our evolutionary history. We eventually formed partnerships with horses to improve our speed and carrying power, but even then we were still primarily an ambulatory species.
Now we’ve transcended all that. Cars have become our new appendages, our gateways to mobility and freedom. We don’t have to walk any significant distances anymore if we don’t want to, and if we have to walk, we tend to see that as an annoyance. Since the dawn of the machine age, our range of travel has been extended by trains, planes and automobiles, and our lifestyles have been irrevocably altered as a result.
So when we do embrace walking these days, we do so with a different attitude. It’s not simple transportation now, but rather exercise. A low-impact, low-intensity form of exercise, a pale imitation of real exercise like running, swimming, rowing or bicycling.
But paradoxically, in this age where more vigorous forms of aerobic and anaerobic exercise have become standard practice for many, the United States is in the midst of an obesity epidemic. About 35% of all American adults are classified as obese (more than 20% above their recommended BMI), and 69% are overweight by at least a few pounds.
As we all know, obesity has been implicated in an increased risk for life-shortening conditions such as high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and Alzheimer’s. Poor diet is of course a primary culprit in all this, but regular strenuous exercise is supposed to be great for both fitness and appetite suppression. And we are a pro-exercise culture. So what’s going on here?
Could it be the method that’s the madness? Might it be that we simply aren’t walking enough anymore, and all the exercise plans and routines we hatch are not enough to overcome our neglect of this most basic and fundamental form of ‘exercise?’ The possibility is certainly worth considering.