Simple delights of a walk a day

The Adelaide Advertiser

Wednesday 25 September 2002

FIT WALKER: Sprinter Matt Shirvington.


I AM, by inclination, a pedestrian. That doesn't mean I don't drive a car. But if I have a destination inside a kilometre or so, I invariably walk. Strolling from The Advertiser building in King William St to Hutt St or Rundle St is a delight. Others in the office take cars or taxis. They miss out on so much.

In the office, I rarely use the lift to travel two or three floors, preferring instead the stairs. It is quicker and healthier. A pedestrian is defined quite simply as “one who walks” or “going or performed on foot”.

Walking, whether it is through the city, along suburban streets, on a beach or in a park, is blissfully rewarding. You see so much more on foot.

Yesterday, I walked to Halifax St - hardly a hike - and on the journey stumbled across Artillery Lane. What a delicious name. I have yet to discover why it is called Artillery Lane, but it sent my mind in all sorts of imaginary directions. If I had been driving, I would not know about Artillery Lane.

At the weekend, I spent an hour walking through the Aldinga Scrub Reserve. Stand quietly for a few moments and the trees and undergrowth come alive with birds you wouldn't hear or notice from a car. At one point, we saw a small lizard sunning itself on a tree stump. It was unconcerned by our approach. Perhaps it knew we were in its territory and meant no harm.

We stumbled across the site of a demolished house. Introduced trees on the site gave us the clue to its ghostly history. Once again, we only noticed it because we were on foot.

Walking is, of course, not only a congenial method of “site-seeing”. It provides the opportunity to think, time for reflection and, with an agreeable companion, time for conversation and communication. Perhaps best of all, it is a wonderful exercise.

One of the major concerns about modern society is the spread of obesity - particularly among children - heart disease and diabetes. The director of the New South Wales Centre for Physical Activity, Professor Adrian Bauman, believes 1400 deaths from heart disease and diabetes could be prevented each year, and $76 million saved in measurable health costs, if just 10 per cent of Australian adults walked more regularly.

It is worth noting that South Australia does not have a Centre for Physical Activity. Physical education is not formally taught in our schools. Professor Bauman's observations about the benefits of walking have been taken up by the Pedestrian Council of Australia, which is urging Australians to walk to work on Friday, October 4. The council wants Australians to leave their cars at home and instead use a combination of walking and public transport to get to work in a healthy, more efficient way.

The fifth Walk to Work Day is designed to raise awareness of the importance of walking as a healthy activity and increase the use of public transport.

The council believes that if people became “walking class heroes” - and included a walk in their daily commuting routines - it would improve community health and create a cleaner environment. But there is limited value in walking for only one day. People should begin now to get fit enough to manage the October 4 walk. The magazine Sports Medicine says walking is “the nearest activity to perfect exercise”. Walking is healthy and reduces noise and air pollution. It is free and requires no special equipment.

What it does require is commitment. There's no better time than now to arrange with a group of workmates, friends or neighbours to catch a bus, train or tram to within two or three kilometres of your workplace and walk the final leg. By October 4, you will be fit enough to complete the walk to work with ease.

Walkers who get into the habit will become fitter, lose weight, free up arteries to the heart and ease congestion in the lungs. If walking could prevent 1400 deaths each year, one of them just might be yours.