Greene: A Prescription For Walking

Nov 3, 2015

My husband recently made a nine mile trek up Glastonbury Mountain, a 3,700-foot incline, and came back a convert — feeling tauter, fitter and enormously energized. A few good stretches headed off any cramps, and he guiltlessly consumed a generous slice of apple cake after dinner. When he invited me to walk an hour a day with him, I readily agreed.

Recently the U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, gave the portly American people their walking orders: Only 30 minutes a day five days a week would result in enormous health benefits. The Diabetes Prevention Program, a study conducted in 25 health centers across the country, found that walking 150 minutes per week coupled with a modest weight loss could cut diabetes risk by 50 percent.

Even creativity guru, Julia Cameron, recommends long walks as a tonic for any kind of creative block. Trouble is, many small Vermont towns don’t have sidewalks. And we don’t drive slowly. It’s like taking your life in your hands to tiptoe along some narrow shoulder as cars scream by — even without snow and ice.

It turns out the health of a community can be predicted by its physical layout. Three recent studies examined government health statistics of communities designed for walking and showed walkable environments promote good health.

In 2011, Vermont passed its Complete Streets legislation promoting safe roads for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Kelly Stoddard-Poor, Director of Outreach at AARP Vermont says the legislation has begun changing the mindset of Vermont communities. “It used to be that people thought sidewalks were nice but almost a luxury; now they’re interested in strategies that support walkable communities,” she says.

Since Vermont’s population is the second oldest in the nation, it’s important to plan for aging in place. And since one in five people over 65 doesn’t drive, and one in eight over 50 doesn’t drive, it’s easy to see how walkways benefit people of all ages.

My hometown is a case in point. It’s a quintessential ski town, so sidewalks aren’t the first thing you think of when you think of Dover. But when the town paved a three-quarter mile walk in the village along Rte 100, what used to be a harrowing trip along a narrow shoulder became a lovely promenade that’s constantly in use.

Plans to link other town trails will eventually create a walkway more than four miles long, creating safer, healthier options for all of us.