Personal, Social, and Perceptual Barriers

According to the 2002 National Survey of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Attitudes and Behaviors, one in five adults age 16 or older had not taken a trip by foot during a thirty-day period in the summer of 2002. The survey, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, reported that the number one reason for not walking is that respondents were either too busy or did not have the opportunity to walk.

The following table lists some common personal and social perceptions (and sometimes, realities) that often factor in to people's decision not to walk. Next to each barrier is a list of potential solutions and truths that can be used to counteract misperceptions.

Common Perceptions and Barriers to Walking Overcoming Barriers
I haven't walked or exercised regularly since junior high school! By not walking regularly, you're one of millions—the one-third of all Americans who are putting their lives in serious danger because they live sedentary lifestyles. The number of deaths in 2000 caused by poor diet and physical inactivity increased by approximately 65,000, accounting for about 15.2 percent of the total number of deaths.1 The good news? There are ways to add physical activity to your daily life. A study by the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research found that even small lifestyle changes—such as walking around a soccer field during a child's game, or walking around the airport during a layover—significantly improve cardio-respiratory fitness and blood pressure ( Walking is one of the easiest activities to do because it allows you to accomplish several things at once and requires no special equipment. Incorporate walking in your daily schedule to get to work, walk your kids to school, to do errands, or to visit a friend.
I get bored by walking. So make it interesting! Here are some tips to inject fun into walking and keep yourself motivated:
  • Make it social—walk with friends, social groups, walking clubs, or combine walking with another fun occasion, such as walking to the movies, a concert, or sports event.
  • Vary your routine—walk at different times of day, with different friends and neighbors. Walk your dog, or a friend's dog. Explore new walking routes and trails.
  • Multitask—Take headphones and listen to music or an audio book (but keep the volume low enough to be able to hear and be aware of your surroundings).
  • Plan a special long walk—for example, a hike or visit to the beach, a walking event (like 5K or 10k), a walking tour of a foreign country or city, a religious pilgrimage, or a hike along the Appalachian Trail or a national park.
Walking is dangerous: there is crime, no safe place to walk, and drivers are too aggressive. If personal security and safety are a concern in your neighborhood, consider some of these alternatives to help you keep walking:
  • Try finding places and times to walk that are less threatening—take laps around your place of work during your lunch break, or walk around a mall or shopping center, where there are likely places for pedestrians and people to guard the public space.
  • Find safety in numbers—walking with a group helps make you more visible to drivers and will provide a stronger deterrent to criminal activity.
Learn how to address crime and traffic problems in the section, Address Community Problems.
Other modes of transportation are faster; I don't have time to walk. Often, people who use this excuse are really saying, "I haven't made time to walk, because walking is not a priority for me." Or, perhaps they've never attempted to walk to a place, and they simply assume that the time or distance is too long. Here are some things to consider that may help you make walking a higher priority:
  • Even when you really can't seem to set aside a half hour for a walk, you CAN walk—find shorter segments of time where walking naturally fits into your schedule.
  • If you're used to driving everywhere, this may take a little rethinking—try sitting down, looking at your calendar and list of places to go, and check off the places where you could walk instead of driving. If you have a short errand to do, a meeting to attend, or a child to pick up, try walking.
  • Consider the benefits—if you're headed to see a movie, to worship, to a game, walk. Although it may take a few minutes longer than normal, remind yourself of your efficient use of time: you're actually accomplishing several things at once.
Walking is painful for me. If you are out of shape or recovering from an injury or illness, walking might hurt—at first. But, walking is one of the easiest physical activities to do. And it will get even easier if you stick to it. Start by walking ten minutes a day and build up slowly as you get more comfortable. Never add more than 10 to 20 percent more time or distance to your walk in a week's time, but do keep a walking diary to help motivate you to add more time and ground to your daily walk. Talk with your healthcare provider about how to build up slowly and keep discomfort to a minimum.
It's too hot/cold/rainy/icy/snowy out. In the age of climate control and central air, people have been conditioned to expect the environment to remain comfortable at all times. Here are some tips to keep weather from getting in the way:
  • Dress for the weather. Great rain and snow gear is available as are hats and breathable fabrics for hot weather.
  • If you live in an area that experiences extreme heat or cold, adjust your walking routine to each season. In hot or humid areas, start your stroll early, or walk at dusk. In cold areas, walk during the middle of the day—on your lunch break, or in the afternoon.