The proclamation couldn’t have been any clearer or the source more credible: “We are a nation of walkers.”
The statement, you may be surprised to learn, has no relation to the zombie apocalypse as seen on the most popular show on television. If it did, surely it would have been seen as more newsworthy and you would have heard about it by now. They are words spoken by our surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, delivered in a keynote address at the second National Walking Summit, held this past October in Washington, D.C.
The focus of the summit was the concept of walkable communities, and Murthy’s appeal to representatives from 44 states centered on the need to improve infrastructure in communities to make walking easier; about making sure that “everyone in America has a good shot at being healthy.”
Apparently, Johns Hopkins University’s Andrea Gielen’s comment last week about physical activity putting some folks in harm’s way is far too real a circumstance in this country. Several presentations at the summit graphically illustrated how historically depressed areas and current poverty zones have a strong correlation with low levels of walking opportunities and, in turn, high levels of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. People walking in the poorest one-third of urban census tracts are twice as likely to be killed by cars. It was also noted that, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the pedestrian fatality rate rises significantly for people age 45 and over.
Expanding the concept of walking as not only a way to improve public health but also a moral imperative to improve infrastructure for underserved communities seems to have been a major theme of the summit. There were also many encouraging trends to report. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 2005, the number of Americans walking has increased 6 percent.
Walking, now referred to as “steps” in the exercise world, is starting to replace jogging as a preferred workout form, with up to 20 million Americans taking to sidewalks and trails. People are walking not just to improve overall health but to relieve stress and tension, as a group social activity, as well as a means to stimulate creative thinking. The American Heart Association believes it to be a trend that will stick, given it is free, simple, and manageable for most everyone who is ambulatory, including people who are older, overweight or new to exercise. It is the easiest way to make exercise part of life. To facilitate this growing trend, $1.5 billion has been allocated in recent years toward walking and biking improvements around the country.
That’s not even the best news or the strongest incentive to step out.
According to a brand-new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a brisk 20-minute walk each day could be enough to reduce an individual’s risk of early death. Just this 20-minute investment will burn between 90 to 110 calories and can move an individual from the inactive health category to moderately inactive, and that alone can reduce the risk of premature death up to 30 percent.
According to the Livestrong organization, there are more than 31 major health benefits achieved by walking as exercise. They include everything from lowering body-fat percentage to toning your abs to decreasing lower back pain to reducing your risk of heart attack, stroke and glaucoma. This simple form of exercise can positively impact eight out of 10 of this country’s costliest health conditions. Walking can significantly reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Adults with diabetes who walk at least a mile each day are less than half as likely as inactive adults with diabetes to die.
Still, more than a few hurdles remain for us as a nation to reap these benefits.
Even with the allocations made in recent years around the country toward walking and biking improvements, they still account for less than 1 percent of overall transportation spending.
The federal government recommends that adults do a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity every week. Brisk walking qualifies. That adds up to 30 minutes, five times a week, or about 21 minutes of exercise every day. Currently, only 49.2 percent of Americans over age 18 are actually fulfilling this minimum aerobic requirement, which tells us that most Americans are clinically sedentary.
Americans continue to walk a lot less than people in other industrialized nations. A 2010 pedometer study found that Americans only walked an average of about 5,000 steps a day, with 1 mile representing approximately 2,000 steps. This is in the upper limit for a sedentary lifestyle. By comparison, Australians and the Swiss walked an average of almost 10,000 steps a day, and Japanese participants walk about 7,000 steps a day
A study of 3,000 Australians covering 15 years showed that a sedentary person who increased his or her steps from 1,000 to 10,000 steps a day, seven days a week, reduced his or her mortality risk by 46 percent.
Want to live longer, enjoy life and improve your health? You simply must take the proper steps. It’s not that hard.
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.