(Published December 16, 2013)
Around the start of each New Year, advice abounds to help people adopt healthier lifestyles. The American College of Sports Medicine offers science-based guidelines: adults should get 150 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity to maintain health; double that to lose weight. Kids need an hour almost every day. (For details, see Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.) Given that physical activity has been shown to help prevent and treat more than 40 chronic diseases, let’s resolve to help everyone get a healthy dose.
This year’s advice focuses on how to achieve those physical activity goals, involving individuals, families, communities, workplaces and other organizations, and carves out a role for Congress as well. ACSM is a lead partner in the burgeoning collaborative known as Every Body Walk! (www.everybodywalk.org), which touts walking and walkability for health and a slew of other reasons: economics, environmental benefits, student achievement and more. Walking (and rolling, for those who use wheelchairs) is available to nearly everyone, costs nothing, and integrates easily into everyday life. These points were made abundantly clear at the recent 2013 Walking Summit, where Dr. Bob Sallis, Past President of ACSM, reported the discovery of a “wonder drug” for many of today’s most common medical problems: “The drug is called walking … its generic name is physical activity.”
Resolved: Walk More!
While guidelines from ACSM and the CDC suggest a combination of regular aerobic exercise, strength training and flexibility activities, walking offers an easy and accessible way to start. Even those who are sedentary and unfit can begin by walking a bit more each day. Studies show that 10-minute bouts of exercise bring health benefits, and it becomes easier and more enjoyable as you fit it into your daily routine.
Walking can provide solitude, connection with your surroundings, or quality time with others. (Tip: Dog owners walk more, in addition to enjoying the companionship.) Experts suggest parking a bit further away, taking the stairs, walking to a co-worker’s desk instead of emailing across the room, and finding other strategies to work walking into your activities of daily life. Try it – it’s contagious!
Resolutions for Everyone
Individuals and families can do much to increase their own walking, but the movement doesn’t stop there. The Every Body Walk! collaborative involves non-profit organizations, employers, and government agencies. Companies hold walking meetings and encourage workplace wellness; churches stage congregational walks; educators support walking to school and class sessions on foot. Public officials hold the keys to fostering walkable communities through zoning laws, Complete Streets policies and safe neighborhoods that allow residents to be out and active.
Congress – despite other issues that divide the body – can unite over the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Act, which calls for regular review and updating of physical activity guidelines as is done with nutritional guidelines. Legislation encouraging trails, paths and walkable neighborhoods are icing on the cake.
Gifts that Last, but Cost Little
Sure, give your loved ones that treadmill, workout video, bicycle or gym membership, and encourage them to keep at it throughout the year; but remember to also do what you can to add more walking to daily life. You’ll feel better, enjoy improved health and fitness, and share all the co-benefits with your family and community.