Why walk or bike? To feel alive!


In the spring of 2015, I attended a conference in D.C. called “Moving Active Transportation to Higher Ground.” As the title (sort of) suggests, the conference focused on ways of estimating the health impacts of using our own power to get around. Among conference organizers’ conclusions was that even when we account for all the toxins walkers and cyclists are exposed to, traveling using our own power reduces our chances of early death and extends our lives by a few years.

Toward the end of the conference, organizers asked us attendees to think about ways of talking about the health benefits of active travel to those outside our academic bubble. But while focused on this noble task, we ignored what most of us truly and deeply care about: feeling alive.

More than the abstract “health” or extrinsic monetary benefits of traveling on foot or bike, walking and cycling are vitalizing; they often make us feel alive.

Therefore, I propose that when talking to people about walking, let’s bring up its social benefits – of encountering friends, acquaintances, neighbors along the way; of feeling sunshine, raindrops, breezes upon our skin; of smelling savory drifts from local restaurants and sweetness from corner bakeries. Let’s talk about the cheerful birdsong we hear on our bike ride to work, about the mist that tickles our faces as we glide downhill. Let’s talk about how sauntering and cruising through nature and hardscapes makes us feel awake, granting us a sense of joy and exuberance.

Similarly, when delivering our message to decision-makers, we can whisper about the health care cost savings of active commuting, but should speak more loudly about the quality of life that walking and cycling afford. Let’s talk about how by walking and cycling in our communities, we become more likely to identify with and cherish our chosen place, more likely to care for it, to work to enhance its well-being, to give back to it.

It’s time we step away from our statistical models and jargon, and begin expressing the pleasures of stepping and gliding from our experience as humans.

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