Why You Should Start Racing People on Your Commutes

Power-walking is the single best everyday habit you can adopt this year

A man power-walking through Grand Central during his commute.
Don't give an inch! Here's why you should pick up the pace this year.
Photo by Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

Generally speaking, I’ve been trying to slow down this year. That’s to say: cook more ambitious meals, take extra time with each rep in the gym, plan my trips more thoughtfully. In a hyper-plugged, time-pressed, consumption-centric age, it feels really nice (and practically imperative) to take the foot off the gas pedal and act with some actual intention.

I have one massive caveat for this approach, though — when I’m alone and out and about, I’m walking faster than ever. If I’m waiting at an intersection, Mario Kart-style, for the little walking man to appear, I’m not giving an inch to a single stranger on the street. We’re all going to different places. But I’m going to be the first one there.

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Power-Walking Is a Superpower

Faster walkers live longer. It’s true. A study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings in June 2019 found that people who routinely walk at least 100 steps a minute can expect to live 15 to 20 years longer. Not too shabby. The head researcher on the project, Dr. Francesco Zaccardi, a clinical epidemiologist at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, reported that longer life expectancies were evident across a massive variance of participating body mass indexes, from 20 all the way up to 40 (which is characterized as obese).

A different study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2018, reached a similar conclusion on the benefits of walking pace: “Walking benefits health. Assuming causality, these analyses suggest that increasing walking pace could reduce risk for all-cause and CVD mortality. Walking pace could be emphasized in public health messages, especially in situations when increase in walking volume or frequency is less feasible.”

Walking Pace > Total Steps

Instead of walking pace, public health messages tend to emphasize steps taken. (We dive into the bizarrely random history of the 10,000-steps-a-day goal here.) But remember, not all steps are created equal. Some are taken up hills, or stairs, or on challenging, uneven terrain — which can supercharge your balance for the rest of your life, assuming you’re careful.

Other steps can be taken quickly, in the form of power-walking. These convey a bonanza of benefits for the body: reducing your risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, helping you cut belly fat, strengthening your bones (and specifically shrinking your chances of a hip fracture later on), and sharpening your mental functioning.

One of the best examples of a brisk walker in action? Postal workers. They have to be quick as they follow their route from house to house. They also seem to combine a high step count with a quick walking pace — no wonder they’re way less likely to develop metabolic syndrome.

Start Your Engines

There is a time and a place for a long and luxurious walk. One spent with your kids, on a beach or on the first day of spring. Those walks are worth savoring. But I’d wager the majority of your walks, like mine, are point-to-points — you’re headed to the grocery store, to the office, to the train. Maybe you only have 30 minutes for a lunch hour loop.

To the best of your capabilities, try to pick up the pace on these daily walks. Think about it: the more you get accustomed to getting places quickly, the more you’ll walk quickly — you’ll budget it into your general getting around. (These days, I always wish my Google Maps projections would update to my above-average pacing!)

Also, considering walking is becoming an essential, daily rite for so many people in this country (by 2050, 89% of Americans will live in urban areas), it’s the perfect arena for a little extra effort. Many of us struggle with habit-forming when it comes to consistent runs or bike rides, but as the walking’s poised to happen anyway, you should feel empowered to embrace power-walking as a core pillar of your exercise strategy. Whenever you feel a sidewalk stranger coming up in your periphery, turn on the jets.

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