COVID-19 and Walking: The Great Equalizer


Walking has been having a moment for a while now. Books and research have been proliferating about the joys and benefits of walking, which include cultural exchange, spiritual enlightenment, and cognitive and creative benefits. Research regularly concludes that even small walks stimulate one’s imagination and enhance focus, and findings note that those who walk regularly are healthier and live longer than those who do not.

With so many Americans quarantining with limited options for mobility and large numbers managing mental health issues because of the virus, National Geographic has called walking the “ideal pandemic activity.” But National Geographic was also quick to note that while walking is fundamentally a democratic act, “access to safe walking isn’t always guaranteed, as many in the Black and brown communities know.” So having a sense of how and if Americans are walking during the pandemic could be very useful.  

Thanks to new survey data from AEI’s COVID-19 and American Life Survey, we know who is walking in the midst of the pandemic, and the good news is that Americans are getting fresh air consistently across the nation. In fact, the survey data shows that over the course of a week, on average, only 16 percent of Americans took no walks. Another 21 percent claim that they walked less than 30 minutes daily, while the remaining 63 percent walked more than 30 minutes regularly. 40 percent assert that they regularly walk more than an hour daily.

Even in urban areas where COVID-19 impacts are the most visible, 63 percent of urbanites are still managing to walk 30 minutes or more daily. The number is virtually identical at 60 percent for the socially distanced suburbs and a bit higher at 65 percent for small towns.

Regional differences are also fairly minor. Those who live in the East South Central region — AlabamaKentuckyMississippi, and Tennessee — are the most sedentary at 23 percent of the population not regularly walking, but 16 percent of those in the Pacific states and 15 percent of New England are not regularly walking either. Some states are a bit higher, with 67 percent of those in Michigan and 66 percent in Texas reporting to regularly be walking 30 minutes or more, but most are within a handful of points of the national average. Even 60 percent of New Yorkers, who bore the brunt of the outbreak, are regularly walking 30 minutes or more.

Generationally, there are small differences among the very oldest generation compared to everyone else. 65 percent of those in Gen Z walks more than 30 minutes a day, as do 63 percent of Millennials, 64 percent of Gen Xers, and 63 percent of Baby Boomers. The number drops for the Silent Generation to 55 percent — still an impressive number for a group of people in their 80s.

Read the rest at American Enterprise Institute

Samuel J. Abrams is professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Photo:, in Public Domain.