Lessons learned from ditching the car and becoming a pedestrian commuter.
Last year, Jenny Rough decided that she had had enough of sitting in traffic. A captive of her car, Rough had an epiphany about her 45-minute drive each way to work and decided to make a change, a change that would have a cascade of positive impacts. She decided to trade in her car for her own two feet. As she writes in The Washington Post:
Trapped in my car that morning, I tried to breathe calmly, but even as I listened to a podcast on happiness, I was miserable. Washington has some of the worst traffic congestion in the country, and there was no way I could feel anything but tense that day and many others as I watched people engage in the worst of human behavior: cutting into lanes, yelling curses and making obscene gestures, as if we were all a bunch of toddlers throwing an R-rated temper tantrum.
It was clear: After years of city traffic, I had to escape the constant conga line of cars.
Noting that she’s not a morning person, Rough found that she could take the train into the city – a 45-minute trip door-to-door – change clothes at the office after work and then walk home. The 7.2 miles trek takes two hours and she gets back about an hour later than she did when driving, but she is thriving with the change. And who wouldn't be? Consider the benefits (some highlighted by Rough, others provided by this walk-everywhere writer):
Creates energy to do more
Even though she gets home later, Rough notes: "I actually feel I have more time in the evenings, not less. I feel energized and happier."
Inspires healthier eating
One of the mysterious perqs of exercise is that it can tweak the mindset into making healthier food decisions. As Rough says, on walking nights (as opposed to the days she works from home), she is “not as tempted to be a slug in front of the TV and to eat comfort food in place of a healthy dinner, as I’m often tempted to do when I commute by car.”
Walking builds muscle, sitting in a car doesn’t.
Makes for a healthier heart
Walking improves circulation and wards off heart disease by raising the heart rate, lowering blood pressure and strengthening the heart.
There is no shortage of research showing that that the more people walk each day, the better their moods are. God bless endorphins.
Encourages better sleep
Studies show that people who walk regularly tend to sleep better; Rough said that this was true for her as well.
Rough notes that she saves money on parking; but toss in fuel costs and vehicle wear-and-tear and the savings could really add up. Then cancel the gym membership and figure in fewer health care costs and the savings could be even greater.
While the specifics vary by vehicle type and driving conditions, the fact remains that driving a car creates greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change; walking does not.
Increases marital bliss
This one may seem surprising, but given all the other benefits, is it any wonder? Rough says that her excitement about walking has led to extra bonding with her spouse (and I'd add that walking alone has its own set of meditative advantages):
My pedestrian commute has even improved my marriage. I’d always wanted to be a couple who took an evening stroll after dinner, but my husband never seemed game. Reacting to my newfound enthusiasm, he recently said, “Let’s walk the neighborhood loop.”
Walking together is the perfect way to hash out problems. Talking through issues shoulder to shoulder instead of face to face provides a sense of unity.
And last but not least, provides the opportunity to enjoy the simple pleasures of putting one foot in front of the other
Rough says that aside from the benefits, the greatest pleasure is the walk itself, "I treasure the time to think and be outdoors."
As I wrote in 10 ways to get the most out of walking, "Walking for the sake of taking a walk is emotionally as well as physically pleasing; walking for the sake of getting somewhere is cheaper and easier on the planet than driving. And for whatever reason you find yourself walking, it's a great form of exercise. Walking is a win-win-win-win."