I am from Los Angeles, Calif., and although here we are known for being ultra-concerned with physical appearance and striving for “perfect” bodies, public opportunities for walking are just not as widely available as they are in some other parts of the country. In fact, the term “walking in L.A.” is kind of an oxymoron (although there are plenty of great hiking trails throughout Southern California if you want to find them). In contrast, cities like New York and Chicago seem to be built for walking with public parks and walkways that attract millions of people each year.
I recently went on a trip to New York City and walked more in three days than I do in months at home. First, there are places like the expansive Central Park where people walk, bike, run, roller skate, etc. Next, since driving is difficult (traffic snarls every major street and highway) and the cost to own a car (parking in particular is at a premium price) is prohibitive, the NYC subway system is well utilized, and that means a lot more walking as well as stair climbing.
We know there is an overweight and obesity epidemic. We also know that walking is one of the easiest, most accessible and effective ways to get active and fit. Doing it regularly helps keep weight, blood sugar and blood pressure under control. It is in the best interest of each city’s financial health if more people are physically healthy. That is why many are investing in public spaces designed to encourage walking. Take the “High Line” in New York City. It is a former railroad line that was specifically re-purposed as a public space that encourages walking. I walked it recently, and I was astounded by how many people were on it – getting exercise and fresh air, enjoying the lush landscaping and art that lines the path and enjoying a spectacular view of the city skyline and waterfronts.
Also in NYC there is a strip of walkway parallel to the Hudson River that runs through Nelson Rockefeller Park where I saw hundreds of people and families walking, biking, skating and enjoying a pleasant late Sunday afternoon.
There is a public television show called “City Walk” (watch episodes online at https://www.linktv.org/series/city-walk) that takes viewers to neighborhoods all around the United States and finds unique walking adventures that demonstrate how this is changing the health and economy of each city.
You can find groups in virtually every city that you can join and walk with. Some take tours of notable sights in town or offer challenges for its members to complete together, such as the “Big Walk” that challenges participants to walk the East Coast Greenway from New Jersey to New York, and the organizing group, the “Freewalkers” set up a “Cross-Jersey” walking challenge to encourage putting in 100 miles within a year’s time. The website www.meetup.com is a great resource – just type in what kind of group you are looking for (e.g. “walking” or “hiking”) and the city you are in, and you will see all that are available to join for these activities. Of course, there are old-fashioned hiking books and maps to show you where the trails are.
Other ideas include utilizing visitor information centers since there is one in nearly every major city. Furthermore, there are concierges at hotels that can help you find nearby walking areas.
The benefits of using locations designed for walking include: You will know that it is safe, they are usually well-maintained, the views are pleasant, most paths are designed for all levels of fitness, and they are usually free. People-watching is entertaining, and if you stop and rest for a bit, you might meet some folks who are interesting and fun. You can also help maintain these areas by supporting groups that preserve them (the Highline has such a group from which you can buy souvenirs to help with its upkeep).
Los Angeles is actually trying to catch up and promote walking and cycling by holding an increasing number of “Ciclavia” events in various parts of town. Even though the name of this event suggests riding a bicycle, participants are encouraged to walk as well in city streets that are normally filled with cars and resulting gridlock. It remains to be seen if L.A. will ever be known as a “walking city,” but this is a great step toward that end.
Whatever city you are in, whether you live there or are visiting, try a different approach to walking and make it an adventure.