Why not walk?

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May 6, 2014
By: Jay Walljasper
Jay Walljasper

Going for a walk is our favorite activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and we walk 6 percent more on average than a decade ago. Walkable communities — where schools, shops and entertainment can be easily reached on foot — are a red-hot real estate trend.

The public clearly understands that walking is good for them and their families. A national survey commissioned by Kaiser Permanente found that 94 percent of Americans believe walking is good for our health, 91 percent believe it helps us lose weight and 85 percent that it reduces depression. If more Americans adopted this easy habit, we could save as much as $100 billion a year in health care costs.

Americans will get even more encouragement to take a stroll this year when the U.S. Surgeon General’s office releases an official Call to Action on Walking and Walkability, which highlights the mounting medical evidence that walking is one of the best ways to prevent disease and stay healthy. Yet the CDC reports that 52 percent of all Americans still don’t meet the CDC’s recommended minimum for physical activity: 30 minutes a day five days a week for adults, and one hour a day for kids.

The public opinion survey sponsored by Kaiser Permanente (which powers the Every Body Walk! Collaborative) listed people’s most common reasons for not walking:

— Few places within walking distance of my home: 40 percent

— Don’t have time: 39 percent

— Don’t have the energy: 36 percent

— Lack of sidewalks or speeding traffic: 25 percent

— No one to walk with: 25 percent

— Crime in my neighborhood: 13 percent

How to talk about walking so others will listen 

This spring more than two dozen leaders of the emerging walking movement gathered in Washington, D.C., at a meeting sponsored by Every Body Walk!, to work on a compelling message to encourage more Americans to walk. Here’s a compilation of ideas to overcome these barriers and make walking more visibile:

— Wear gold shoe laces: The African-American women’s walking organization Girl Trek, outfits members with gold shoelaces for their walking shoes to reveal themselves as regular walkers. 

— Call on the power of art: Public art on the theme of walking serves as a reminder to take a stroll. Artists design crosswalks, trail signs and gateways to walking paths that capture people’s imaginations.

— Enlist high-profile local figures to schedule regular public walks. People will don their sneakers for the chance to walk with a public official, athlete, entertainer or physician.

— Plan a walk with friends and family. Suggest a walk first and then maybe a meal or drink or movie or round of cards

— Walk Every Wednesday: Around the country, people are organizing walks every Wednesday. (#WalkingWednesday on twitter). 

— Suggest a walking meeting: Energize that afternoon discussion by doing it on foot.  Do your next phone meeting standing up. 

— Organize a walking club: Like a book club, but with water bottles instead of novels.

— Turn your coffee break into a stroll: Recruit co-workers for a refreshing trot out on the sidewalk or around the campus.

— Issue a walking challenge: Try some friendly competition by seeing who’s the first to walk 100 miles. North Shore-Long Island Jewish Hospital sponsored a contest encouraging its employees to walk the distance from New York to Paris, with some winning a free trip to the French capital.

— Establish a Black Belt for walkers: Many of us are drawn to compete with ourselves.  Create awards for people hoofing it a half-hour for 365 days straight or striding the distance of the earth’s equator (24,901 miles).

— Post signs around town listing the walking times to popular destinations: Walk Raleigh, a fledgling group in Raleigh, N.C., hung up 27 handmade signs around downtown that became so popular the city posted their own official versions.

— Mark a definite walking route: A walk after dinner is an enduring custom in Mediterranean and Latin American countries. Italians call it a passeggiata. People generally follow the same route through the heart of town, making it a social occasion as much as exercise regimen.

— Tell everyone: “If they can walk in L.A., we can do it here.” Famous for auto-cracy, Los Angeles actually harbors many walkers and hosts the Big Parade, an “epic public walk” that covers 40 miles and 100 public stairways over two days accompanied by food, music and art. Every town could create its own walking parade or festival.

Jay Walljasper writes, speaks, edits and consults about how to improve community life. He is author of “The Great Neighborhood Book and All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons.” His website: www.JayWalljasper.com