Gerry ChidiacI’ve asked myself this question every day for much of my adult life, and I now realize it’s one of the keys to my happiness and good health: Do I really need to drive to work today?

I first began asking myself this question almost out of necessity when living in an overcrowded tropical city early in my career. I’d always run or played sports almost every day until then. And I found as a driver that dodging pedestrians on crowded crosswalks just wasn’t a lot of fun. And I didn’t have access to regular sports programs.

So unless I had errands to run as part of my job, I began walking roughly three km to and from work every day.

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As I looked around, I realized that most of the local population were doing the same thing. I couldn’t help but notice as well that people seemed to find it odd that an obvious foreigner was walking with them, though no one seemed to mind.

To be honest, I loved my walking commutes on cool tropical mornings, before the sun reached its peak. I worked at a home for street children and they loved it when we shared dinner together. A nice walk after a big bowl of fufu and beans was just what the doctor ordered.

Returning to Canada, I tried to find a home within a comfortable walking distance to my place of work. This has been my daily routine for decades. Looking back, I see that many advantages have come with this decision.

I feel great physically. Walking isn’t hard on the body but it’s wonderful exercise. Studies show that those who choose active transport to a commute to work are healthier. To be honest, though I’m approaching 60, my energy level feels the same as it did 30 years ago.

Walking feels good. Regardless of the temperature, I feel invigorated when I get to work and refreshed when I leave. This isn’t surprising – physical exercise also improves our mental health.

I know that my choices are having a positive impact on the environment. There’s a satisfaction in knowing that we’re simply doing the right thing. Taking care of our environment is what’s best for our descendants and for our planet.

What I’m doing is also very good for the economy. The median age in Canada is increasing. It will be a challenge for our young workers to sustain a large retired population. By making conscious choices to maintain my health, I can easily work past 65. It certainly benefits my employer to have experienced workers. I also allow those who want to retire or those who need to retire the ability to do so.

We’ve been told for generations by advertisers and the media that being seen in our vehicle is an important demonstration of our status in society. I choose not to buy into this myth. By driving only when absolutely necessary, I buy less fuel, I decrease the cost of upkeep on my vehicle and my car lasts longer. The bottom line is that driving less saves a significant amount of money.

I often hear people say, “I have to drive.” For some, this is true. Children need to be picked up and dropped off. Some drive because it’s the safest way to get to and from work. Others don’t live within walking distance from work or even near a bus stop.

Many of us, however, could walk, ride a bicycle or take public transit if we chose to do so.

Do I really need to drive today?

It’s a simple question. Quite often the answer is: Today, I choose to walk.

Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.

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