Step it up, step out, keep moving, Surgeon General says

Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A., has introduced an initiative to improve the public health by promoting walking for physical activity as well as for transportation. In a new Surgeon General’s Report, Murthy noted that physical inactivity greatly increases the risk of early death from stroke, certain cancers, heart disease, and diabetes. Physical activity, including walking, reduces stress and helps to manage or lessen the severity of heart disease, hypertension, depression and arthritis. Walking is an activity that nearly everyone can do, and it requires no special equipment. Nevertheless, there are obstacles in the community that discourage walking, and Murthy urges that everyone act to reduce those obstacles.

Physical inactivity

Murthy observed that children and adolescents require 60 minutes of physical activity per day, while adults need 150 minutes per week, preferably 30 minutes per day at least five days per week. Many schools no longer provide daily or even weekly physical education classes, and fewer jobs require physical activity.

Obstacles to walking

Murthy noted that lack of time is the reason most frequently cited for lack of physical activity, including walking. Both adults and children often have busy lives and tight schedules. But safety is also an important concern. Car accidents involving pedestrians have increased, and in some areas the risk of violence makes it dangerous to walk. The design of many communities discourages walking as well. Many communities lack sidewalks. When stores, schools, and places of business are located separate from residential areas, heavy traffic may discourage people from walking to those destinations.

Five goals

In order to improve public health by increasing physical activity, the report outlines five goals: (1) make walking a national priority; (2) design communities where walking is safe and easy for everyone, including people with disabilities; (3) promote programs and policies to support walking where people live, learn, work, and play; (4) provide information about the benefits of walking and include it as part of the training and education of professionals in many disciplines; and (5) fill the gaps in the current knowledge of the factors that encourage or discourage walking.

The strategies to achieve the first four goals include maintaining sidewalks; improving lighting and landscaping to make walking safer and more pleasant; locating parks and schools to encourage walking; promoting breaks for physical activity in schools and workplaces; and organizing programs and activities to encourage people to walk. In addition, research is needed to learn about what interventions actually work to help people increase their physical activity.