In light of the number of Americans who have insufficient daily physical activity, the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy kicked off Step It Up!, a campaign to promote activity among Americans through walking or wheelchair rolling.

Murthy calls on Americans to be more physically active through walking and calls on the nation to better support walking and walkability. Increased exercise helps prevent health problems and improve longevity, and communities need to ensure that walking areas are safe and accessible for all pedestrians.

"One out of every two U.S. adults is living with a chronic disease, such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. These diseases contribute to disability, premature death, and health care costs," he noted in his call to action, but research has shown that exercise promotes good health, prolongs life and prevents disease.

Walking, in particular, is what Murthy calls a powerful tool in promoting good health. "We know that an average of 22 minutes a day of physical activity can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes," said Murthy. "Increasing people's physical activity level will significantly reduce their risk of chronic disease and premature death and support positive mental health and healthy aging."

Despite Americans knowing the benefit of daily exercise, many don't observe it. According to the National Institutes of Health, two-thirds of the U.S. population is considered overweight, with one-third of this portion being obese. Data shows that only half of the population and a quarter of high school students are able to do the required amount of exercise daily. Murthy described it as Americans having "lost the culture of physical activity," hence the necessity of the surgeon general's Step It Up! campaign to encourage citizens to get back on the healthy living track.     

Yet motivating Americans to step it up is not the only problem. Many communities are reportedly not safe for walking or laid out in a way that is conducive to promoting walking. Some 30 percent of neighborhoods have no sidewalks, and, since 2003, nearly 50,000 pedestrians have been involved in vehicular accidents. "In large part because they have less street lighting, fewer crosswalks, fewer traffic calming measures," said Carlos Monje, assistant secretary for transportation policy at the Department of Transportation. Knowing this, Murthy also makes it an aim for the program to promote pedestrian safety and be wheelchair-rider friendly. He emphasized the need to establish sidewalks, ramps, street lamps and to plan safe routes and make special provisions for the disabled.   

So far, several others have expressed support for the campaign. The U.S. Department of Transportation created "more flexible" mobility standards so communities can better fund sidewalk construction and improvement. Kathy Smith, CEO of America Walks, a group that promotes walking and provides a voice for walking and walkability through federal government affairs, reported that over 500 organizations in the U.S. are mobilizing to make communities more walker-friendly, with some focusing on encouraging certain minority groups to walk more. Tyler Norris of Kaiser Permanente, a health care provider group, has encouraged communities to use public and private resources to create safer roads, more sidewalks and make provisions for wheelchair riders. It's doctors now "prescribe walking," Norris said.  

"Walking is a right, not a privilege or luxury," Norris said during the press conference. "All must be able to walk in their communities, and that means all."

Photo: Trailent | Flickr

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