Antonia Malchik, A Walking Life: Reclaiming Our Health and Our Freedom—One Step at a Time (New York: Da Capo, 2019), 259pp.
Whatever happened to walking? It wasn't too long ago (about a hundred years) that most everyone walked, perhaps out of necessity, and very few people could afford the luxury of a car. My mother (born in 1922) never drove, which now seems like a miracle since she raised six children. But today walking is almost always viewed in a negative light. It's thought to be exceptional, eccentric, quaint, inconvenient, suspicious (if you walk in the wrong neighborhood), and even criminal (jaywalking!). As a teenager I was always embarrassed that my mother didn't drive; she walked.
We know that our western lifestyles are horribly sedentary, but just how bad is bad? Consider these examples from Malchik's book. Three-quarters of British children spend less time outside than prison inmates (100). The average American sits for thirteen hours a day (140). Think of our suburbs without sidewalks. With our "car-centric" culture and our obsession with speed and efficiency, says Malchik, "we have been designing walking out of our lives for a hundred years" (4).
In Malchik's view, walking is about more than burning calories. Our "habitual bi-pedalism" is "what makes us human" (she appeals to Richard Leakey). Her book considers walking from many different perspectives — health, creativity, spirituality, grief, and especially our need for community and connection (cf. a leisurely walk through your neighborhood). There are positive developments out there like GirlTrek, Walk2Connect, and America Walks. Zillow now rates neighborhoods for their "walkability." There's a burgeoning literature about walking, much of it autobiographical, like the best seller A Walk Across America (1979) that my wife read many years ago, or the new book Walking (2019) by the Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge that I recently reviewed.
So, do something radical. Recover the health of your body, mind, and spirit. Grab a friend and take a walk!
Dan Clendenin: firstname.lastname@example.org