By Jay Walljasper
The next big health care breakthrough - which could cut
rates of heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, and Alzheimer's by at least 40 percent
and save Americans $100 billion a year - comes from a
place you'd least expect. On your block. At the park. Everywhere.
this amazing treatment, which also happens to be easy, enjoyable and virtually
free? It's as simple as taking a walk.
is like medicine for my patients," says Dr. Bob Sallis - a Kaiser Permanente
family practitioner from Fontana, California-describing the connection between
how much time his patients
spend walking and their overall health. "If walking was a pill or surgical
procedure, it would be on 60 Minutes."
"Being physically active is one of
the most important things people of all ages can do for their health," explains
Joan Dorn of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She notes
that walking ranks #1 as Americans' favorite physical activity, and that doing
it for as little as 30 minutes is one way to achieve significant health
US Surgeon General Dr. Regina
Benjamin announced that she is preparing a Call
to Action on Walking, which is being compared to the famous 1964 Surgeon
General's Report on the dangers of smoking.
"Walking is easy," Dr. Benjamin told
a group of health, business, education, and government leaders who came
together in Washington, D.C. to advance a national walking movement. "Everyone can do it and it's fun.
We have to make being healthy joyful."
More than 100 organizations, ranging
from the National PTA to the American Lung Association to AARP to NAACP to
Nike, were on hand at the meeting. Despite their wide-varying missions, the
vast majority of groups agreed on two common goals: 1) Encouraging everyone to
walk more; and 2) Boosting policies, practices, and investments that will make communities
everywhere more walkable.
A national summit to launch a walking movement is now being planned for October
1-3 - stay tuned to www.railstotrails.org
"For the last 60 years, we've built
our communities around cars, not people," says Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
President Keith Laughlin. "We've created places where it's difficult, or even
dangerous, to walk. This is a shame, because regular walking is one of the
cheapest and easiest ways to improve our health. The movement to create built
environments to encourage walking is now a critical public health issue."
The benefits of walking don't stop
at health. More people walking leads to safer hometowns, better student
performance in school, a stronger sense of neighborliness, increased economic
activity at local businesses and improved social equity among all Americans,
notes Tyler Norris, Vice President of the large non-profit health care provider
Our country's low rate of physical activity compared to other
nations is not just laziness. To get Americans back on their feet we need to
make movement once again a natural part of daily life. This calls for a close
look at how people are either encouraged or discouraged from walking to work,
schools, shops, parks and other destinations in our communities.
Real estate developer Christopher Leinberger outlines the powerful
economic arguments in favor of walking. One-third of all assets in the U.S.
today are real estate, he explains, "and there is a huge pent-up demand for
walkable urbanism" - a term describing cities, suburbs and small towns with
sidewalks and other pedestrian amenities. "All of the growth over the next
generation, if we give the market what [people] want, will be walkable
urbanism," states Leinberger, who is also a research professor at the George
Washington University School of Business.
And walking is on the rise.
Americans are walking six percent more on average than we did in 2005. Also, young people show a preference for walking. Federal Highway
Administration research shows that vehicle miles traveled by drivers under 30
dropped from 21 percent of the total in 1995 to 14 percent by 2009 - an
unprecedented 33 percent reduction that marks a cultural shift by the emerging
Millennial Generation. And
the launch of a new walking movement offers promise for substantially
increasing Americans' physical activity.
from the booklet Walking
Revolution. Jay Walljasper is a writer and speaker about how to make our
communities more livable, sustainable, prosperous and lively.