Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Wanderlust

By Tim Olds

We are walking less than ever, but urbanisation isn’t always to blame.

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When did you last go for a walk? A really long walk? We used to walk more than we do today. Today, the average Australian walks for about 40 minutes per day, and that includes walking to the shops or walking from the car to the office. Daily walking time increases from 24 minutes for 10-year-olds, peaks at 54 minutes when we are in our 40s and 50s (the work years), and then falls back to 24 minutes again in our 70s. Hunter-gatherer groups like the Ache and !Kung walk 2–4 hours each day.

Reading journals from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, one is struck by the sheer volume of walking. Wordsworth, a great walker, tramped 2–3 hours each day over the Lakes district for 60 years, covering more than 300,000 km in his lifetime. In a charming and detailed account of life at a British country school in 1922, Virginia Bedale reported that schoolchildren would walk 2–5 hours each day to and from school. In a study that simulated life in the early Australian colony at Old Sydney Town, Australian researchers recorded people walking 4–6 hours each day.

Walking was not only functional, it was also considered to be therapeutic and meditative. Sixteenth century doctors stressed the importance of daily walks for health, and Queen Elizabeth I had a special gallery constructed where she walked an hour each night before dinner. A doctor in 1882 advised walking as a...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.