America has forgotten how to walk.
Walking six miles a week can make you smarter, reduce depression, lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and even raise one’s self-esteem, writes Tom Vanderbilt in a four-part article published in April in Slate magazine.
It can help your child’s academic performance and requires no special equipment or fuel.
Just thinking about walking makes it sound so wonderful that we should do it more often.
Bangor happens to be doing something about it with a Get To Know Your Trails Weekend on June 16 and 17. It will promote walking, jogging and biking on the city’s trails, with the kickoff walk at 10 a.m. Friday, June 15. It will celebrate the newly designated East-West Loop Trail in the Bangor City Forest.
And Eastern Maine Healthcare Services offers Greater Bangor residents a free program called Move and Improve. For 12 weeks from March through May, it guides more than 7,000 participants through physical activities, including walking for goals ranging from 30 minutes a day for four days a week to 60 minutes a day for seven days a week.
These programs give walking a good push for those who take part, but a lot more is needed. Americans walk the least of any industrialized nation, according to Vanderbilt. Ten thousand steps per day is the supposed ideal. The average Australian takes 9,695 steps a day; the average Swiss takes 9,650; and the average Japanese takes 7,168.
But the average American manages only 5,117.
For all its health and well-being advantages, walking has gotten little help and even a bad name. Sidewalks are often rare; crosswalks are often violated; and the word “pedestrian” has come to mean “prosaic, plain, commonplace, uninspired (sometimes contrasted with the winged flight of Pegasus)” in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Other aids available on the Internet include a clever program that can give you a walkability score for your city or town and for your specific address or the address of a home you are considering for purchase or rent.
Go to www.walkscore.com and you can find these scores, as well as the best commuting route to work and how long it will take to walk it. You’ll also find the walking time to the nearest supermarket, library, restaurant, bar — and park, for even more walking.
The site rates Bangor at 50 out of a possible 100 points and calls it “somewhat walkable.” Portland gets a 65 and a similar “somewhat walkable.” Ellsworth is rated 80 and “very walkable.”
Of course, all this computer work, as well as all the talking about walking, takes valuable time that could be devoted to actually walking. It will do you a lot of good to walk every day — for at least 30 minutes and an hour or more if you’re up to it.