If you’re an inner city resident, you’ll probably have some strong opinions about walking. For some of us, walking from a to b simply isn’t an option – unless you’ve got a couple of hours to spare. That leaves us with the faff of public transport, the expenses of uber, or if you’re lucky, the traffic that comes along with driving.
But what if we told you that walking around your city could lower your stress levels? Just hear us out…
There’s a certain joy that comes from meandering your favourite neighbourhood. Wandering the centre of a city or discovering new backstreets by foot are welcome relief from the slog of public transport, but all too often our busy lives mean we just don’t have the time for the simple joy of walking. And as it turns out, this can have a serious impact on our mental health…
A new study based in the UK, has questioned the relationship between the walkability of a city and the blood pressure levels of its residents. 430,000 residents of 22 UK cities including London and Liverpool were studied, with pretty clear results: the more walkable the city, the lower the stress and blood pressure levels of its residents.
Making Britain more walkable would be a huge step towards reducing our carbon footprint, as well as promoting active lifestyles and getting Brits to finally ditch their uber habits (guilty.) With the proposed pedestrianisation of Oxford Street, one of the UK’s most congested areas, the wheels are already in motion for a more walkable Britain. And London isn’t the only city catching on to the walking revival; Madrid is following suit with its placement of water fountains dotted around the city to help keep pedestrians hydrated, whilst Melbourne has transformed its old alleyways into hotspots for cafes and shops.
So where are the world’s most walkable cities? Ancient European cities were designed specifically to be explored by foot, with Rome’s winding back streets and pedestrian friendly squares a prime example. Even cities like Paris were created for pedestrians but had to adapt to the car age, resulting in some pretty crazy pollution levels.
One (perhaps surprising) city brilliant for walking is Fez, Morocco. The walled city centre means cars are minimal, and because the city was founded in the 9th century the streets are super narrow, with even the rubbish being collected by donkey. If the logic of the study is corrected, Fez’s residents must be pretty chill.
From a travellers point of view, we should always be aiming to explore a city as it was meant to be explored. For historical cities like Fez, Rome or Florence, that’s on foot, walking the paths of the Moors or Romans, exploring the city as they did. For newer cities like Sydney, Auckland or Vancouver, the car-friendly roads mean you’d probably get more out of a bus tour if you want to see all the sights (although walking is always more fun, don’t you think?).
As for your own cities, it’s time we start falling back in love with walking. Pick out your best walking shoes, choose your favourite podcast or create a ‘walking through my city’ Spotify playlist, and get going. If you’re planning to move abroad, it might be worth checking out the city’s walkability levels too. It might end up making the world of difference.