Just when everyone’s getting used to Minneapolis being the bicycling and running capital of the known universe, along comes Jay Walljasper, preaching the gospel of our own two feet, in relatively slow motion, as the path to health and wellness and community.
Walljasper, the longtime South Minneapolis resident, writer, and neighborhood and community activist, recently penned a booklet for the walking advocacy group Everybody Walk! (everybodywalk.org) that begins, “The next big health care breakthrough — which could cut rates of heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, and Alzheimer’s by at least 40 percent and save Americans over $100 billion a year — comes from a place you’d least expect. On your block. In the park. At the mall. Everywhere.”
Talking walking, of course, but, seriously? It’s come to this? We now need people like Walljasper (and groups like AmericaWalks.org and SafeRoutesPartnership.org) to tell us to go take a hike because it’s good for us?
“There’s been a 70- or 80-year war on walking,” said Walljasper. “Let’s face it, our grandparents walked everywhere. But at some point, urban planning did this big pivot after World War II and somebody said, ‘Who needs sidewalks? We have cars.’
“Luckily, South Minneapolis is such a great place to walk. I’ve always loved to walk. Spiritually, intellectually, and psychologically, walking just clears my mind and makes me smarter. We’re one of the top cities in North America for recreational walking; people love to circumnavigate a lake here. It’s a pastime here. It’s a ritual. But the idea is to create more walkable communities, where people walk to work, the store, all over.”
According to Walljasper’s data, walking is already American adults’ favorite aerobic activity, with six in 10 reporting walking for at least 10 minutes in the past week. Eleven percent of all US transportation trips are already made on foot; 45 percent of us walk to work if it’s within a mile, and 40 percent of us walk to shopping if it’s within a mile. American adults are walking 6 percent more on average than in 2005, though 52 percent of adults still don’t get the recommended minimum amount of 2.5 hours of aerobic physical activity a week.
All of which is bound to change in the coming months, when a unified voice extolling the virtues of walking will make itself heard via a national summit in October. What’s more, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin recently announced that she is preparing a Call to Action on Walking, which Walljasper likens to the government’s anti-smoking campaigns of the ’70s.
“The idea is to launch a walking movement in the way that there’s a bicycling movement,” said Walljasper. “Many people identify with being bike riders, but not that many identify with being walkers. The word ‘pedestrian’ in certain contexts is a pejorative word.
“But walking is one of the most elemental human acts, essential to our lives in the same way as breathing, eating and sleeping. Putting one foot in front of the other is intrinsically tied not just to our bodies but to our psyches and soul.”
For emphasis, Walljasper offered up pro-walking quotations from Sigmund Freud (“The Interpretation of Dreams is planned on the model of an imaginary walk”), Saint Jerome (“To solve a problem, walk around”), and Jean-Jacques Rosseau (“I can only meditate when I’m walking. When I stop, I cease to think; my mind only works with my legs.”)
“As influential and forward-looking as these men were, they could never have imagined life today, where walking is sometimes seen as a relic from times past,” said Walljasper. “But walking is kind of the pace of life. You see so much more when you just decide to slow down and walk.”