Walking — good medicine

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January 14, 2014
By: Jay Walljasper
Jay Walljasper

Researchers have discovered a “wonder drug” for many of today’s most common medical problems, says Dr. Bob Sallis, a family practitioner at a Kaiser Permanente clinic in Fontana, Calif.. It’s been proven to help treat or prevent diabetes, depression, breast and colon cancer, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, obesity, anxiety and osteoporosis, Sallis told leaders at the 2013 Walking Summit in Washington, D.C.

“The drug is called walking,” Sallis announced. “Its generic name is physical activity.”

Recommended dosage is 30 minutes a day, five days a week, but children should double that to 60 minutes a day, seven days a week. Side effects may include weight loss, improved mood, improved sleep and bowel habits, stronger muscles and bones as well as looking and feeling better.

Biking, swimming, dancing, gardening, sports, jogging and aerobics work equally well, Sallis said, but he cites three factors that make walking the most effective treatment: 1) Low or no cost; 2) Simple to do for people of all ages, incomes and fitness levels, and 3) Walking is Americans’ favorite physical activity, so you are more likely to stick with a walking program than with other fitness prescriptions.

Increased levels of walking and physical activity can bring other social benefits too, said authorities from the fields of public health, education, community development, and social policy at the first-ever national Walking Summit held last October. The summit was convened by Kaiser Permanente and the Every Body Walk! Collaborative, which includes more than 100 business, government and nonprofit partners.

Vanessa Garrison, co-founder of Girl Trek, which organizes walking groups for African-American women and girls to “improve their health and heal their communities,” opened the summit by announcing, “Neighbor, we’ve got work to do!” Garrison emphasized that walking is not just for folks “in Portland and Boston,” a theme that echoed during the three-day event. Walking is for everyone — no matter if you live in an inner city neighborhood or a suburb without sidewalks or a rural community, no matter whether you are out of shape or a youngster or roll in a wheelchair. 

Garrison emphasized that walking should be a natural part of our daily lives, rather than something we add on specifically for exercise, health or recreation. “I have the pleasure of walking every day to the store, the dry cleaners, the post office, to the park with my husband. That’s no accident,” she said. It’s the result of deliberate urban planning that locates important destinations within walking distance —a traditional common-sense idea called walkability, which is at the heart of making our communities more safe, comfortable and convenient for walking.

Nice Surprise: Walking is Good for Us in Many Ways

Improved School Performance:

Mary Pat King, director of Programs and Projects for the National PTA, reported that walking to school “supports cognitive performance” in students, which is why the organization passed a resolution pushing for more walkable schools.

Stronger Economy:

Karen Marlo, vice-president of the National Business Group on Health, an alliance of leading companies, explained, “Walking is a business issue. A healthy workforce means a more successful workforce. It’s important for businesses to share effective ways to get employees to walk more.”

Better Neighborhoods:

Harriet Tregoning, director of the Washington, D.C. Office of Planning, said, “What makes people walk is what makes great places to live. Walkability is the secret sauce that improves the performance of many other things.”

Real estate developer Christopher Leinberger of LOCUS outline how the rise of walkability is good for our economic future. Every point over 70 on Walk Score (the website rating the walkability of any address in America) results in increased rent of 90 cents per square foot for commercial property and a rise in home values of $20 per square foot for residential property.

The 2013 Walking Summit was sold out more than a month in advance. “The enthusiasm, energy and excitement for promoting walking and walkability here is contagious,” noted Deb Hubsmith, founder and director of the Safe Routes to Schools  Partnership. “This is a movement being born.”

Excerpted from the booklet Walking As a Way of Life: Movement for Health & Happiness.[http://www.everybodywalk.org/media_assets/WalkingAsAWayOfLife1_Final.pdf]

Jay Walljasper writes, speaks and consults about creating healthy, lively communities.  His website: JayWalljasper.com