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What’s So Great about Walking? 2 Hunter Professors Step Out to Get Answers

Walking is the oldest human way of getting from one place to another. The modern world offers many easier and faster alternatives, however, so why is walking's popularity on the rise? That is just the kind of intriguing question a sociologist like Peter Tuckel and an urban planner like William Milczarski would ask. But when they began looking for answers, they found few surveys have been done about the attitudes and behaviors of people who walk. Last spring the two Hunter professors went online to mount what is undoubtedly the most comprehensive national study on the subject ever conducted.

"While there are a number of reasons why people walk," Tuckel and Milczarski found in analyzing the answers of more than 7,000 respondents, "the overriding reason . . . was related to health. More than any other factor, 'maintaining good health' was mentioned as the single most important motivator."

That is significant because, "At a time when all sorts of products on the market (snack foods, personal care products, supplements, etc.) are extolling their health virtues and promoting their life-enhancing qualities, walking has been demonstrated unequivocally to be a natural way to promote and maintain one's physical and emotional health.  And the respondents in this survey know this to be the case."

People combine health with a variety of other purposes, of course. For many, the reason is "instrumental" - getting to work, school, mass transit or a store. For others, it is mental relaxation. Still others are out with their pets. Where people walk also varies. The majority (63.9 percent) use sidewalks or streets. For 8 percent, it is in apark or forest. A small number (1.7 percent) use a gym, and even fewer (1.4percent) use a treadmill at home. The once-popular activity of mall walking has plummeted - just 0.3 percent.

The survey revealed that the majority of frequent walkers fall into the youngest (18-24) and oldest (65 and over) age categories. Middle age is a valley between those peaks.  In terms of race and ethnicity, "Frequent walkers are disproportionately found among Asians (83%) and non-Hispanic whites (77.1%)."  And they tend to be highly educated:  "Among those who have graduate school or professional training or a degree, 80.3 percent are frequent walkers compared to only 67.8 percent of those who have just a high school education or less."

Tuckel and Milczarski concluded that more needs to be done to publicize the many rewards of stretching one's legs:  "Health care professionals, journalists and manufacturers of walking-related consumer products (e.g., specially-designed walking shoes, pedometers) all need to trumpet much louder the benefits of walking."

The survey, which was conducted in cooperation with the organization America Walks, will be incorporated into a book on the growing popularity of walking that Tuckel and Milczarski are now researching. 

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