The Nation's Pulse

Accelerate Yourself

Americans need to learn to walk faster.

By 9.30.08

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To live in a walkable city is a very fortunate thing, as those who live in some of the finest -- Boston, New York, and Washington to name a few -- know all too well. As our nation becomes more urban, more cities have become walkable, especially in their business districts, as the sidewalks bustle with people going one place or another.

Yet as I walk around these urban areas, I generally find myself struggling to get around those walking ahead of me, even when I'm not in a hurry. Have you ever thought of the effects that would ensue if everyone sped up their walk just a little bit?

The average person walks about two to three miles per hour. But based on the people I see on the streets here in our nation's capital, I'm going to guess it's closer to two miles-per-hour for most. If everyone increased their pace by just two miles per hour -- to a fairly brisk four miles per hour -- the results would be staggering.

For one, our society would become a lot more fit. For a 150 pound person that walks an hour a day, increasing their speed by a mere two-miles-per hour would mean burning an extra hundred calories a day. That's a hundred calories without changing your diet, and without exercising more. Burning an extra 100 calories a day will result in a 36,500 calorie reduction over a year, which means you will lose over 10 pounds! The results are even greater for those weighing more. If everyone did this, the strains on our nation's health system would be weakened, and medical costs would go down, reducing insurance premiums.

Don't have time to exercise? A common excuse (trust me, I use it all the time). But if you simply walk two miles-per-hour faster as you run your daily errands, you're not spending any more time. In fact, you're saving time.

THAT BRINGS ME to my next point -- increased productivity. If everyone walked two miles-per-hour faster, then you would get everywhere a great deal sooner and spend less time commuting. If you normally walk two miles-per-hour, then to walk twenty blocks would take you an hour. If you increase your speed by a mere two miles-per-hour, you could walk the same twenty blocks in half the time -- thirty minutes.

This would put America's workers at their jobs thirty more minutes a day, which would yield an extra 130 hours of work per year per worker. This would make the country far more productive. Or, it could mean an extra 130 hours with your children at home, or an extra 130 hours watching old movies you enjoy or an extra 130 hours volunteering in the community. Think about the difference you could make! That is a lot of time to gain for simply picking up your pace as you go about your daily routine.

All of these calculations do not even include the amount that walking faster would increase traffic-flow -- which would also have an effect on time and productivity. The person walking at two miles-per-hour across a four-lane highway (approximately 40 feet) takes a little over thirteen and a half seconds to get across the street. As he or she saunters across the street, a line of cars wait to turn right on red. If that same pedestrian walked just two miles-per-hour faster, then he or she could cross the street in 6.8 seconds -- half the time. In that time, almost three cars going just ten miles per hour could make it through the light. That is three more cars that can go while the light is green, and three more cars ahead of you that are out of your way. Such a minuscule number across every crosswalk in a city could make an enormous difference. This would mean even drivers' commutes are shorter, making them more productive and giving them more time.

IF EVERYONE WOULD walk just two miles-per-hour faster as they go about their daily routine, the world would be a very different place. Now certainly not everyone walks twenty blocks a day, though throughout the course of your day, twenty blocks is not an unusual distance. But while some don't walk that far, some walk much further. Many people here in our nation's capital walk more than ten blocks each way to work -- myself included -- which is twenty blocks a day before you include their walk to lunch, to the convenience store, and to surrounding meetings.

So next time you're sauntering along, wondering why you can't lose weight and where all the time in the day goes, pick up your pace. Just a little bit. If everyone does it, it will be truly remarkable.

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About the Author

Russ Ferguson is a lawyer and writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.