I Walked Everywhere I Needed to Go for a Week—Here’s What Happened

No longer living in a walkable city, a writer ventured out in her tiny hamlet to see if walking everywhere was still doable—an uplifting way to celebrate springtime and Earth Month.

Like a lot of Americans surrounding the pandemic, my life has shifted in the past few years. Anyone who spent years living in urban areas and then retreated to greener pastures knows what it’s like to suddenly appreciate the ease of being able to load things into the car and drive home.

A January 2023 Forbes report suggested that around 20 million Americans relocated between 2019 and 2021, and many were making the shift from densely populated cities to wider open spaces. With so many of us having relocated from major cities, it’s worth remembering that walking can still be a brilliant way to get around.

Walking is a great way to incorporate the health-improving benefits of exercise into our daily routines, plus it doesn’t require any equipment or memberships. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that each week, adults get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity (or an equivalent combination) plus two days of muscle-strengthening exercises. The guidelines say that aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week and that everyone should be active for at least 60 minutes each day.

There have been periods when my entire life seemed to be a workout. During the many years I was a massage therapist, I walked or biked to work as much as possible, which meant I was physical both at work and during my commute. I now write full-time from home, and I live in a semi-rural area of the Hudson Valley where I can walk to a few shops, but we’re mostly dependent on cars here. In honor of Earth Month, I decided to consciously drive less and walk everywhere I possibly could for a week. Here’s what that looked like.

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Walking everywhere for a week inspired me to use what I had

When it comes to being a conscious consumer and reducing environmental impact, using what we already have is critical. This can look like mending clothing and keeping it in circulation—or, in the case of my week of walking everywhere, it can look like reducing grocery waste and using what we have before buying more.

Instead of thinking about what I wanted to eat and driving to the grocery store just because I could, I took a closer look in the fridge and pantry to see what I had. As it turned out, I had more food stashed away than I thought! Plus, it forced me to get creative.

Instead of going to the “big” grocery store a few miles away, I shopped at the tiny food co-op, about a 10-minute walk from my apartment. The bigger grocery store wouldn’t be too far to walk—but I couldn’t get much since I’d have to backpack it home—plus, I questioned whether it was safe to walk along the two-lane highway. I decided against it. If I wanted to procure my groceries on foot, it made more sense to do one major shop and then fill in from the co-op as needed.

It’s about a mile roundtrip to the co-op. The walk is slightly uphill on the way there, but a loaded backpack added a little intensity to the downhill on the walk home. “It’s tiny [changes] like these that amount to big changes,” says Juli Fraga, Psy.D., a San Francisco psychologist and writer. “Just a brief walk can lower cortisol and instill a sense of what mindfulness researchers call ‘soft fascination,’ which is a re-set for the mind, helping to instill a sense of relaxation.”

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Instead of driving to a yoga or fitness class, I did online classes from home

I live in an area with abundant trails, but instead of driving to some of my favorite trailheads, I kept it local and got my heart rate up on the trails I can walk to from my house. I love variety, but I also don’t mind repeating the same trail every day. This is especially fun in the spring when everything is blooming—observing the small daily changes was fun. “Making exercise convenient saves time and makes it more likely that you’ll reap rewards because external stressors are removed,” Dr. Fraga says. By not driving to other trailheads, I saved myself at least thirty minutes and I earned extra steps, so it was a win-win.

This week provided a good reminder that at-home workouts—such as on-demand classes or finding strength, stretching and mobility routines online—can be satisfying and were also something I could squeeze into my schedule in smaller increments than, say, an hour’s commitment to the gym. Like a lot of us, I’ve been known to skip the gym because I can’t always find the time, but it’s almost always possible to squeeze in 15 minutes here and there in a quick online class. These were a great supplement to my walking routine!

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Walking everywhere limited my options, which turned out to be positive

My mom came to visit, and instead of driving to one of the bigger towns 20 minutes away, we chose a restaurant we could walk to. “Walking to dinner is a great way to spend more quality time with family and a wonderful way to get exercise as well,” Dr. Fraga says. It also saved me a ton of time. There are so many terrific restaurants in the Hudson Valley, and between researching, reading Yelp reviews and driving there, it would have added hours to my already packed schedule. In addition, it’s great for blood sugar levels to take a walk after a meal!

I used to love running as my main form of exercise, but as I’ve gotten older, weight training is more of a focus. Walking to restaurants, the store and even the trail helped me earn a lot of steps I sometimes miss from my running days. “Exercise should be called extra-cise,” says Washington D.C.-based trainer Errick McAdams, CPT, “meaning any physical activity you do that is more than you normally do is exercise.

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Sources
Juli Fraga, Psy.D., a San Francisco psychologist and writer Errick McAdams, CPT, a Washington D.C.-based personal trainer

Jaime Stathis
Jaime Alexis Stathis is a nonfiction writer whose favorite topics are humans, technology, animals, wildlife, and the places where they intersect. She writes about health, wellness, technology, nutrition, and everything related to being a human being on a constantly evolving planet. Her work has been published in Self, Wired, Parade, Bon Appétit, The Independent, Rachael Ray In Season, and others. She is also a Licenced Massage Therapist. Jaime is working on a novel about a heroine who saves herself and a memoir about caring for her grandmother through the dark stages of dementia.