Just (Winter) Walk, Northern Michigan

This article originally appeared in the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

One of the questions Tim Ferris asks in his book “Tribe of Mentors” is if you could put any message on a billboard, what would it be?

For some reason, I find myself thinking about this a lot. “Always bring snacks.” (My mantra when my boys were small.) “Don’t forget the sunscreen.” (My dad died young of melanoma.) “Be kind.” (Google Ben’s Bells in Tucson, Arizona.) But if the powers that be would allow me to put up a giant billboard in the Open Space this weekend, it would read, “Just Walk, Traverse City.”

You’re probably wondering, “But Ty, aren’t you supposed to be a bike guy? Shouldn’t it be, “Just Bike, Traverse City?” Nope. It’d be “Just Walk,” for sure.

It’s true that I used to hate to walk anywhere. Took forever. Why walk when you could bike and get there three times faster?

My views changed 18 years ago when I started working as a physical therapist. After treating pain and dysfunction that results from an inactive lifestyle, I became fully aware of how little we move as a society.

Drive to work. Sit at work. Drive home. Sit on the couch. Repeat.

As a young physical therapist, I used to prescribe elaborate and complicated home exercise programs. As time went on, I simplified things. Two or three exercises, some pain management techniques and walking. “Just walk,” I’d repeat to my patients.

Why? Because walking is both easy and effective. Gyms cost money. Sports require equipment. The simple act of walking is convenient, free, sustainable (people tend to stick with it), and has many health benefits. They include reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes; improved blood pressure, blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels; decreased risk of obesity; improved mental well-being, energy, and stamina; and reduced risk of osteoporosis, breast cancer, and colon cancer.

Here in Traverse City, we’re lucky to live in a place where walking as part of ordinary life — like going to the library or market or park or restaurant — is, for the most part, easy, safe and comfortable. While we definitely still have work to do regarding equity and fairness (think: Barlow Street), our connected sidewalk grid allows people to be active right outside their front door at home or work.

With a $4.9 million bond to invest in more sidewalks for the Traverse Heights neighborhood, a more than $800,000 commitment to repair sidewalks in poor condition city-wide and a proposed $2 million Safe Routes To School grant that features nearly 5 miles of walk/bike-friendly infrastructure, our walkability is only going to improve in the coming years.

Walking is simple. Walking is healthy. Walking is awesome. And walkability matters.

So just walk, Traverse City. OK? Good for you. Good for me. Good for all of us.

Ty Schmidt is a physical therapist, Canadian import from friendly Manitoba now proud Michigander and the executive director of Norte.