US Surgeon General Announces National Call to Action on Walking

Posted 09/09/15 by Kevin Mills in Health and Wellness, Taking Action

Met Branch Trail, Washington, D.C. | Photo courtesy RTC

Today, walking took center stage when the United States Surgeon General issued a national call to action to increase walking and walkability to address major public health challenges in America.

Step It Up! Surgeon General's Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable CommunitiesThe call to action, titled Step It Up! The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities, which was issued live via webcast at 10 a.m. EST, put forth the benefits of walking while emphasizing the lack of safe and convenient routes for people traveling by foot or wheelchair in many communities across America.

Research shows how pervasive this problem is: A 2013 study by the U.S. Department of Transportation found that three out of 10 Americans reported no existing sidewalks along any streets in their neighborhood. Additionally, in communities where sidewalks or other walking infrastructure do exist, violence and the perception of violence have been known to act as barriers to pedestrian use.

“The lack of walkable spaces has become a health equity issue,” said Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy during his call to action speech. “But today, we have the opportunity to reclaim the culture of physical activity that we once had.”

Photo courtesy RTC

Almost 50 percent of adults in the United States—equating to an estimated 117 million people—live with chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, serious health issues that could be reduced through regular physical activity. And yet, only half of adults and about a quarter of high school students are getting the recommended amounts (for adults, that’s 2.5 hours of moderately intensive aerobic activity each week, and for adolescents, one hour per day of mostly aerobic activity).

Dr. Murthy was introduced by Vanessa Garrison, co-founder and director of GirlTrek, a nonprofit that supports thousands of black women and girls in getting active through walking. Prior to introducing the Surgeon General, Garrison discussed the power of walking through several examples. She mentioned one woman active with GirlTrek who lost her son to gun violence, and who continues to walk in honor of his life. Garrison also mentioned another women who, despite suffering from multiple sclerosis, logs 100 miles per month of walking in D.C. with her walker, and has lost 150 pounds.

"Walking is a powerful healing tradition,” said Garrison. “It has the ability to transform lives, heal families, bring people together in a common cause.”

Walking is a powerful healing tradition. It has the ability to transform lives, heal families, bring people together in a common cause.

Garrison’s inspiring stories help underscore the importance of trails and active-transportation networks in the United States to provide safe opportunities for physical activity for people of all ages and abilities, and to support long-term healthy lifestyles that reduce disease and our nation’s health-care costs—86 percent of which are accounted for by heart and lung disease, diabetes and cancer.

Walking is not only the most common form of physical activity in America (in part because you don’t need special skills or equipment to do it), it is also the most popular activity recorded on many rail-trails. And why not—with the links they provide to every type of local destination as well as their beautiful backdrops, and the way in which they allow us to connect to our friends, family members and communities.

2015 Opening Day for Trails in Spokane, Washington | Photo by Rich Landers

By tracking the development of rail-trails nationally, RTC has recorded more than 22,000 miles of completed rail-trails in all 50 states, and more than 8,000 miles of rail-trails waiting to be built in urban, suburban and rural areas, demonstrating the current and potential reach of rail-trails for supporting American health and wellness.

To encourage people to make walking a priority in their daily lives, the Surgeon General calls on community planners, local leaders, health-care professionals and educators to create more walkable places that are safe from motor vehicles.

The Surgeon General further calls on city managers, law enforcement and community and public health leaders to address safety concerns by better maintaining public spaces, working with residents to promote a shared sense of community ownership, ensuring proper street lighting and fostering neighborhood watch programs.

And those who walk are encouraged to help their friends and family members walk, and to get involved in building more walkable communities.

“America’s greatest source of strength is ultimately our people,” said Dr. Murthy. “We cannot be a strong America unless we are a healthy America. We will succeed in this effort if we work together as communities.”

For more information, and to learn how to promote walking in your region, check out the Surgeon General’s Call to Action website.

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