A Call to Action on how to get America back on its feet

We’ve always known walking is good for us—it burns calories, reduces stress and helps the environment.

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But we never knew how really great it is for us until the just released Call to Action on Walking from US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who explains, “An average of 22 minutes a day of physical activity – such as brisk walking – can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. The key is to get started because even a small first effort can make a big difference in improving the personal health of an individual and the public health of the nation.”

surgeongeneralSurgeon General Murthy announced a national campaign to encourage Americans to walk more and make all communities safer and easier for walking. His office will partner with schools, citizens groups and businesses to meet these goals.

“Walking is a simple, effective and affordable way to build physical activity into our lives,” Murthy adds. “That is why we need to step it up as a country ensuring that everyone can choose to walk in their own communities.”

The landmark report—which is being compared to the Surgeon General’s 1964 warning on the dangers of smoking—is based on definitive medical evidence that moderate physical exercise boosts your health cuts your chances of diabetes, dementia, depression, colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, anxiety and high blood pressure by 40 percent or more.

A major study released this year shows that lack of exercise is twice as deadly as obesity, according to Cambridge University researchers who studied more than 300,000 people over 12 years. Their findings match another comprehensive study that found sitting for long periods is linked to higher death rates.

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This explains why the Surgeon General and a growing chorus of health care experts are singing the praises of walking.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) recommends Americans walk at least 30 minutes a day five days a week—or bike, run, swim, dance, garden do aerobics and play sports. (For kids, it’s 60 minutes a day seven days a week.) Taking a walk is the exercise that people stick with most over time, according to the American Heart Association.

“Walking is like medicine for my patients. If walking was a pill or surgical procedure,” it would be all over the news, says Dr. Bob Sallis , a family practitioner in Fontana, California.

Seniorswalkingseniorssnow“You don’t have to be an athlete to be physically active, just walk, walk, walk!” says the Bernard J. Tyson, president of Kaiser Permanente, one of America’s largest health care providers that powers the Every Body Walk! Collaborative (involving more than a hundred other organizations from the National PTA to AARP to the National Association of Realtors) to get more Americans walking.

Walking stands out as Americans’ favorite aerobic activity because it’s free, easy, available anywhere—and, most of all—it’s fun. Six in ten Americans take a walk at least once a week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the number of Americans walking has risen six percent since 2005. That adds up to 20 million more people on their feet.

The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that eleven percent of the nation’s trips are now made by walking. That rises to 28 percent for all trips under one mile, including 35 percent to work, 40 percent to shopping and 46 percent to religious services.

While ninety four percent of Americans participating in a national survey said that walking is “good for their health,” 79 percent admitted they “should walk more.”

So what’s stopping them?

• 40 percent of people said their “neighborhood is not very walkable”

• 40 percent said there are “few places within walking distance of my home”

• 39 percent said “they don’t have time”

• 25 percent cited a “lack of sidewalks or speeding traffic”

• 25 percent cited “no one to walk with”

• 13 percent cited “crime in my neighborhood”

While a few of the major factors are personal, most involve the design of communities.

“Everyone deserves to have a safe place to walk or wheelchair roll,” Surgeon General Murthy . “But in too many of our communities, that is not the reality.”

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Most Americans support significant changes in our communities to promote this goal, according to the survey sponsored by Kaiser Permanente. Eighty percent “want to design streets to make walking safer” (even if it means driving slower); 71 percent “want better enforcement of speed limits” (even if it means driving slower), and 54 percent “want communities where destinations are within walk distance” (even if it means building homes closer together).

These steps are popular because they are not some radical upheaval of our way of life, but a common-sense readjustment. Walking has always been one of the most elemental human acts, central to our lives the same as breathing, eating and sleeping. Making streets and neighborhoods more safe, convenient, comfortable and interesting for people traveling on foot (or rolling in wheelchairs) is a sensible return to traditional values. It not only enhance our health, but enriches our lives by better connecting us to people and places in our communities.