In the United States, we value our cars. We’ve become a nation of drivers. It rarely occurs to us that walking might be an option, even for short journeys. One-quarter of all automobile trips in the U.S. are less than a mile in length; forty percent are less than two miles (one source of many). Looked at another way: of all trips less than a mile in length, eighty percent are made by car (source).

I know a man who drives to work, even though he lives half a mile from his office. Why does he drive? Because he may need the car for some errand during the day. How many errands did he run during the workday last week? None. The week before? None.

I have a family member who will spend time circling a parking lot, looking for the perfect space. In the time it takes her to find these utopic spots, she could usually have parked farther from the entrance and burned some calories by walking a few hundred feet to the store.

Another friend lives just over a mile from her brother. She never walks to see him, but always drives. Why? Because walking would take too long. (The drive takes five minutes because of the road layout; walking takes less than twenty minutes.)

Walking offers tremendous health benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, walking can help:

  • Reduce your risk of heart attack.
  • Manage your blood pressure.
  • Reduce your risk of developing diabetes (or help you to manage an existing condition).
  • Manage your weight.
  • Manage stress and boost spirits.

(Read more in the Mayo Clinic’s Walking for Fitness guide.)

Many fitness programs encourage a regimen of 10,000 steps per day. When I’m sedentary, I get fewer than 2,000 steps per day. How do I know? I track my progress with a pedometer. They’re cheap and effective. I use this model, which costs less than five bucks. I covet this deluxe model, which costs less than twenty.

But walking doesn’t just help you stay fit. It can also help you achieve other goals:

  • The average cost of operating a vehicle is 52.2 cents. Walking is free.
  • A regular walking regimen can take less time than going to the gym. And there are no membership fees.
  • When I walk to the grocery store, I buy much less. A car effectively gives me unlimited carrying capacity. When I have to haul each item home by hand, I’m much more particular about what I purchase.
  • Walking helps you become more aware of your surroundings. I see a lot more of my neighborhood when I walk.
  • The only pollutant you produce when walking is sweat.

Perhaps, like me, you want to walk, but find it easy to rationalize driving. Or you’re procrastinating the start of a fitness program. Or you’re not even sure how to begin. Here are a few ways to make walking easier and more appealing:

  • Walk with a spouse or friend.
  • Walk your dog.
  • Listen to an audiobook.
  • Count your steps.
  • Observe the world around you: the plants, the birds, the beasts.
  • Greet every person you meet. (Yes, this sounds cheesy, but it’s surprisingly fun.)
  • Have a destination in mind: the coffee stand, the park, a friend’s house.

In time, you may even come to like walking. Perhaps you’ll begin taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Maybe you’ll park farther from the entrance to the mall, your office, the library.

Here’s an excellent guide to starting a walking program. For more on this subject, check Could you walk or bike to more places? at Money and Values.

This article is about DIY, Health & Fitness