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April 17, 2006

Dead Man Walking


(Editor's note: See two other posts in series, "Carless in Seattle," and "A Mile From Home.")

Transit and walking are time consuming. Most people are just too busy. That’s obvious, right?

Well, as my family begins the ninth week of its experiment in car-less living, I’m finding a few flaws in that logic. Here are two.

1. Time spent on transit is different from time spent driving. People vary, of course, but for me, transit time is a pure gain over driving. I don’t enjoy driving. I’d rather read than listen to music or talk radio. And I can read without queasiness on all forms of transit. For me, then, car time is a waste of life, but transit time is living, and I’ll happily choose a 30 minute transit trip over a 15 minute car trip. For me, driving is time consuming.

2. Just so, walking doesn’t consume time, for different reasons. In fact, walking creates time. For one thing, if you walk for transportation, you don’t have to go to the gym as often.

More profoundly, walking gives you time you wouldn’t otherwise have at all. Walking makes you live longer, as Clark posted here. The largest ever study of the subject found that walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week, adds 1.3-1.5 years to your life, on average. (More vigorous exercise adds even more.) On reasonable assumptions (detailed below the fold), this relationship means that for every minute you spend walking, you get three back.

Time spent walking, then, is utterly free. It’s time you would have spent dead.

Nowadays, when I’m walking, I get a little pleasure in the thought that I’m cheating death, that every minute I spend afoot is an extra moment of life.

Boring, wonky, calculation notes:

My assumptions—which I’d appreciate some astute blog reader checking against the original journal article that reports the study on which Clark posted—are that you have to walk 30 minutes a day, five days a week, for thirty years to get the 1.3-1.5 year lifespan bonus. I made up the 30 year figure (too busy to read the journal (wink)).

Then I calculate 30 minutes x 5 (days) x 52 (weeks) = 7,800 minutes of exercise per year x (guess of) 30 years = 234,000 minutes of walking, repaid with 1.4 years or 736,000 minutes of added life. That’s about three minutes extra for every minute you walk.

Note that even if have to walk five days a week from birth to age 90, you’re still getting every single walking minute back, though you wouldn't get three.

Posted by Alan Durning | Permalink


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yeah but if it takes you 5 times longer to get somewhere, then you are losing two minutes for every minute you spend walking.

Posted by: Gary Durning | Apr 17, 2006 12:51:55 PM

It depends what you mean by "losing." You're not losing them from your life. You get them back (and then some). The minutes you spend driving (or riding transit) you don't get back.

But you're not getting to your destination as soon.

Posted by: Alan Durning | Apr 17, 2006 2:25:07 PM


In eleven days, I'm escaping suburbia for a small farm that is walking and biking distance to all the services I'll routinely need. (See the link on my name for more info.) This is on an island, further reinforcing the walk/bike over "just hopping in the car," since the latter will generally include waiting for (and paying for) a ferry.

More people need to consider locking their car and throwing away the key. Just do it!

Posted by: Jan Steinman | Apr 17, 2006 7:55:25 PM

So, Alan, have you tried walking to or from work yet? I'd be delighted to join you. The 8-miles home can be covered in no more than twice the amount of time the bus takes on a Friday afternoon with a Mariner's game, if you include the wait and the walk from the office. It is amazing how people don't think it's possible to walk this distance, but there are so many things that we do for two hours that involve less vital an activity.

Posted by: David Levinger | Apr 17, 2006 8:53:59 PM

Thanks, Jan.

David, sounds like an interesting experiment.

(Fellow readers, David Levinger directs the wonderful nonprofit FeetFirst, which is based in the same building as Northwest Environment Watch.)

Posted by: Alan Durning | Apr 18, 2006 7:49:17 AM

My awareness of time can be punctuated. Sleep, for example, punctuates the beginning and ending of each day. It makes Monday separate from Tuesday. For me, car time is another form of punctuation. If a car is used to transition from one activity to the next, then breakfast-at-home becomes separate from work, work from food-shopping, dinner-at home-from the movie theater, etc. Each activity is punctated by car time, and each day becomes further sub-segmented. When I walk from one activity to another, the transition time becomes an activity in itself, instead of an alternate form of punctuation -sleep behind the wheel.

Posted by: matt | Apr 18, 2006 1:05:41 PM

...sorry, my point in the above comment is that my days now are more whole and feel pleasantly seamless now as compared to before, when I drove obsessively everywhere.

Posted by: matt | Apr 18, 2006 1:27:13 PM

Gary, just remember that bicycling will get ya to your destination faster than walking, and it's still great exercise! And use good rain gear, or a simple water-proof poncho, to help you stay dry in the rain :-)

Walking and bicycling bring to life that old saying that "the journey is as important as the destination."

Which reminds me:
Alan, I totally agree that "transit time is living," when spent wisely. You're lucky that you can read without getting queasy! For me, it's a great time to learn a foreign language by listening to tapes and following along with a book (without too much reading). Right now it's improving my Spanish!

Posted by: Michelle Parker | Apr 18, 2006 8:53:21 PM


Matt, well said!

Posted by: Michelle Parker | Apr 18, 2006 9:16:41 PM


Posted by: mike | Apr 21, 2006 8:00:21 AM

For me walking is stil better than bicyling because it's safer! I find that a 40 walk home from the office, some of it uphill, is a great way to detox from work-related thoughts and get a better perspective on life. As a bonus I feel better and am working off my 'post-pregnancy' couvade fat layer:)

Posted by: Avi Solomon | Apr 25, 2006 6:27:10 AM