by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
The recent increases in gas prices have caused people to look at alternative methods for commuting to work, and while many are looking into car-pooling, public transportation, or biking, there is one other option for those of us who live fairly close to our work: walking.
Even though we all do some amount of walking as part of our daily routines, before you consider something as strenuous as walking to work, consult with your doctor to be sure you are physically up to the challenge. Once you get the OK, start slowly, adding a few miles each couple of days until you build up the stamina and muscles for the full commute distance. Walking is said to be one of the best forms of exercise because of the many benefits received.
Once you're up to the challenge, your next step is planning out your route. You have a lot of options here -- from walking the same route you typically drive to finding nice side streets. Probably the most important criteria is safety -- both in walking through safe neighborhoods as well as streets with sidewalks and crosswalks. Once you have the standard route down, consider little side routes to add variety and interest to your walks. In situations in which there are no sidewalks, remember to always walk AGAINST traffic so that you can see the vehicles as they approach you.
One of the great aspects of walking is that you have minimal investments to make, though you may need to get a good pair of walking shoes to avoid pain or injury. If you have a good pair of athletic shoes that support your feet well, test them out. If you do buy new shoes, remember to break them in before wearing them for the commute.
You'll probably also want to use a backpack in place of -- or in addition to -- your briefcase. Using a backpack frees your arms so that you can use them to keep a nice brisk pace. You can use the backpack to stow a jacket or other gear (including rain gear) -- and, of course, work-related materials.
Walking for fitness may be a bit different than walking around the block, so get in the habit of walking properly -- which means keeping your head up and shoulders relaxed, walking so that the heel of your foot touches the ground first and then pushing off with your toes with the next stride, and swinging your arms gently as you walk.
Once you start walk commuting, you'll find it's a great time to think -- to plan your day or week, solve a nagging problem, or simply think great thoughts. Some people listen to podcasts or audibooks while walking, but I tend to lean against it so that you can be more focused on the walk and your surroundings.
What about safety while walking? You may need to be more concerned about people or animals than you will vehicular traffic ' especially if you are walking on sidewalks. While there are limited statistics on walking accidents/deaths, it certainly makes sense to keep an eye on your surroundings and have a plan for your safety -- cell phone, pepper-spray, etc.
One final option for those whose commute is long or whose health is not perfect is using public transportation to get to and from work, but perhaps getting off a few blocks early on both sides of the commute -- so that you are still saving money and the environment while also getting some exercise.
Final Thoughts on Walking to Work
The health benefits from walking to work include lowering your blood pressure and reducing your risk of heart attack, hypertension, osteoporosis, and type 2 diabetes.
Besides the health benefits and cost savings, by walking to work, you can also feel good about doing something positive for the environment.
Two more health tips before you begin your commute. First, If you are walking during prime sun times, wear effective sunblock to protect yourself from the sun's effects. Second, always carry water with you to replenish the fluids you lose through walking.
Don't forget to check with your employer -- especially if you have a workplace wellness plan. Some employers offer incentives to employees who walk to work -- like free walking shoes.
Finally, use one or more of these resources from our sister site, EmpoweringRetreat.com:
- My Walking Log
- The 100-Mile a Month Walking Challenge: Take the First Step to a Healthy Life
- 10 Critical Walking Tips: Begin Walking Safely for Heart, Health, Life
New to walking? Check out this 10-Week Walking Schedule for Beginners.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Succeed in the workplace! Find great tools and resources for succeeding at work: Workplace Resources for Dealing With Your Job.