Do We Really Need Apps to Take a Walk? - The Public Goods Blog Do We Really Need Apps to Take a Walk? - The Public Goods Blog

Do We Really Need Apps to Take a Walk?

It’s mid-July, 2009 in Long Branch, New Jersey. A man in sweatpants decides to go for a walk; he does not have to be at work until later that evening.

man hiking in mountains

He strolls past the beachside city’s coastal properties and takes notice of a house with a for-sale sign in front.

Unbeknownst to him, he has alarmed the home’s current occupants who have frantically dialed 911 to complain of an “eccentric-looking old man” lingering around their property — an allegation that results in the man being detained in the back of a police car. It turns out to be Bob Dylan taking a stroll before his performance later that night.

Transportation, with its many forms and technological advancements, has certainly made life easier and more convenient. Yet because cars, trains, subways and buses have become an integral part of daily life, walking is sometimes deemed to be an odd, ludicrous, even eccentric human phenomenon.

This attitude certainly depends on region; urban areas experience a lot more foot traffic than that of suburbia. It’s not that those who live outside of cities do not walk, however, only that industrialization has transformed the land with highways, freeways, overpasses and bridges that tend to be less than ideal for pedestrians.

Society is sedentary by nature, with the average adult spending 50 to 70% of his or her time sitting. We sit at meals, sit in cars, sit at work and sit in front of televisions.

Unfortunately many health risks have been linked to sitting, which include but are not limited to diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. Research shows that sitting four or more hours a day poses such heath risks, and this is a disconcerting discovery for those of us who spend countless hours watching Netflix, or those who work desk jobs.

The benefits of walking are known and confirmed by pedometers, Fitbits, and the various fitness apps currently on the market. Sweatcoin, a viral app invented by two Russian fitness enthusiasts, “pays” you in a form of “redeemable” digital currency. Users, nonetheless, only earn points for walking outside, a problem for those who like to get their cardio from a treadmill or elliptical at the gym.

To authenticate that users are walking outside, Sweatcoin uses GPS navigation coordinated with your smartphone, but people beat the system and have been known to simply sit outside, hold their phones in their hands and move their arms back and forth as if they were doing bicep curls. Some users even attach their phones to their dogs and let the four-legged creatures clock in steps while zipping around the yard.

Another drawback is that Sweatcoin must always be running; a hard quit out of the app is grounds for point deduction. What’s more is users who constantly run the app complain of drained phone batteries.

Aside from these setbacks, the gains are hardly worth the energy. Every thousand steps converts to just under one sweatcoin (0.95) and the items users can purchase with their redeemable sweatcoins do not come cheap. When you search for Sweatcoin in the app store, a banner reads “plenty of offers.” While that statement is true (offers include Bark and Netflix), to buy anything valuable, you would have to clock in a number of steps comparable to those Forrest Gump clocks in when he crosses the United States twice. Or, the offers contain underlying stipulations.

Over the summer, I earned 120 sweatcoins and decided to cash in on an offer with Winky Lux, a cosmetics company popular for its chrysanthemum-infused lip stain. I clicked on the icon for Winky Lux, received a voucher for $5 and was redirected to the company’s website. The lipgloss retailed at $14, so I went back in the Sweatcoin app to redeem enough vouchers to cover the cost; I still had 115 sweatcoins left.

Nonetheless, I was only eligible for one voucher and would have to cover the remaining cost myself. This disappointment was only one example of the app’s stipulations.

Sweatcoin is one of many apps designed to motivate walkers. For dog lovers looking to make a little extra cash, Wag! pairs dog-owners and dog-walkers within proximity in as little as 15 minutes. AtlastGO Charity, a walking app that has garnered praise from FABA Startup of the Year and WeWork Mission Possible, invites altruistic users to “join a global community of sweaty changemakers.” People can raise money for nonprofit organizations such as The Colon Cancer Coalition, Eurocross for a Cause, Food Bank of Westchester and Big Brothers, Big Sisters.

Though they can be altruistic in nature, why do we need applications to gamify walking for us? Can we no longer go outside and walk just for the sake of it without a carrot dangling in front of us? Are we a people only motivated by monetary incentives?

It might be difficult to imagine, but life did exist without smartphones and gadgets around our wrists, and people survived just fine.

It might be difficult to imagine, but life did exist without smartphones and gadgets around our wrists, and people survived just fine.

When we walk, we carry our body weight, a physical activity known as weight-bearing exercise. We also stretch our leg muscles (a benefit for those who suffer from joint and pain stiffness), straighten our backs and shift our arms. Knowing that walking reduces body fat, risk of heart disease and stroke, lowers high blood pressure and high cholesterol, strengthens bones, and improves balance, it is a no brainer to get outside and walk. Neil Young, a 72-year-old man who continues to sell out arenas and rock the crowd, is a champion of walking and lauded its merits in his autobiography.

The benefits of walking extend beyond health too. You can make walking a routine while traveling during a vacation. With so much money already spent on travel, food and lodging, it’s especially satisfying to enjoy activities that don’t require a wallet.

Imagine morning strolls in Amsterdam with the sweet scent of pastries wafting through the air as bakeries get their daily deliveries, moonlit walks beneath a twinkling Eiffel Tower, promenades down the bayou in New Orleans just after sunset, or an afternoon spent sauntering in the misty, green Irish countryside.

Walking is not limited to vacations, though, and can be incorporated into daily life. Opt for the stairs instead of the elevator, get off the bus one stop earlier, walk to local shops, walk the dog or walk the neighbor’s dog. After eating dinner, improve digestion with a stroll around the neighborhood.

Another thing to consider is the tranquility walking provides. Some of our best thinking is done while walking. Joel Whitney, founder of “Guernica” and author of “Finks: How the C.I.A. Tricked the World’s Best Writers,” recommends writers read an hour or two a day followed by a walk around the neighborhood because it gets the juices flowing.

There are also walking’s serendipitous moments to acknowledge, like that time I found $200 on the street or that time my friend, Joe, while walking to work, met a man with a telescope who let him see the moon for the first time.

There are beautiful landscapes and architecture to admire. Start a journal, sketch the sights you see. Perhaps you will discover you have a hidden talent for painting the fauna of your neighborhood. Similarly, walking with a friend or family member presents the added bonus of turning exercise into an enjoyable social encounter.

In his sentient sci-fi novel, “Fahrenheit 451,” Ray Bradbury presents a dystopia hinged on technology, where firefighters burn books rather than extinguish fires because intellect and autonomy pose threats to this society’s Orwellian government. One minor though pivotal character named Clarisse is abruptly ousted by the government “for being a pedestrian…Oh we’re most peculiar,” she says drolly. Clarisse worries that the people — in her technologically-driven society — “don’t know what grass is, or flowers, because they never see them slowly. If you showed a driver a green blur, Oh yes! he’d say, that’s grass! A pink blur! That’s a rose garden! White blurs are houses. Brown blurs are cows.”

We may not be able to halt the acceleration of technological advances. In a world where emails write themselves — circumventing the need to think for ourselves — and Uber Eats plans to deliver food via drone by 2021, our sense of autonomy is at an even greater risk. So put on a pair of boots and get outside. The only thing better than the thought of crunchy autumn leaves beneath your feet is actually getting outside and doing it.

If you need a little more motivation, here is this fun walking playlist I put together:

Walking Playlist:

  1. “Walk the Line” – Johnny Cash
  2. “Walk On” – Neil Young
  3. “Sleep Walk” – Johnny & Santo
  4. “Walk of Life” – Dire Straits
  5. “Walk, Don’t Run” – The Ventures
  6. “These Boots Are Made for Walking” – Nancy Sinatra
  7. “Walkin’ After Midnight” – Patsy Cline
  8. “Walking on the Moon” – The Police
  9. “Walk like an Egyptian” – The Bangles
  10. “Walking to New Orleans” – Fats Domino

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Comments (2)

  • I get your point, but if you don’t need technology in order to take a walk, how do you plan to listen to that playlist you’ve suggested?

    Incidentally, the Spelling Police have spotted a suspect using the non-word “lawdes”. They’ve decided to let you off with a warning. The verb is “to laud” and the form you’re looking for is “lauds”.

    • ha that’s a good point. I will forward your feedback to the author. Oh and we fixed the typo. Nice catch!

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