The Surgeon General has released a call to action called “Step It Up”, to encourage communities to make it easier for their citizens to walk. With heart disease being the leading cause of death in our societies, it’s easy to see why the Surgeon General would place emphasis on walking. Physical activity is a necessary ingredient for healthy living and walking everyday can substantially improve one’s well-being. In this blog post, we’ll break down the issues behind walkability and how to improve it:
Chronic Disease and Physical Activity
Step It Up begins by noting that “one out of every two US. adults is living with a chronic disease, such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.” The costs of this reality is great in terms of disability, longevity, and healthcare costs. As negative as these facts can be, a simple addition of regular physical activity can help improve quality of life. Regular physical activity helps prevent risk factors for disease and reduces the chances of multiple chronic diseases. Even people currently afflicted by chronic disease can benefit from physical activity, resulting in a decrease in severity of their condition, helping to prevent disease progression, aiding in managing or reducing symptoms, as well as lowering the chances of premature death.
Physical activity can also help mental health. Regular physical activity is important for healthy aging and may even delay the onset of cognitive decline in older adults. Physical activity also helps alleviate levels of anxiety and depression, which frequently ail children and adolescents. Additionally, academic performance is boosted by a healthy dose of physical activity.
Walking is an incredibly accessible form of physical activity. There are no special skills or training required, no expensive equipment to purchase, and even disabled people can partake, utilizing walkers or wheelchairs. Walking also has a low risk of injury and can be used for people just getting into shape to ease the transition. It’s also one of the simplest, cost effective ways for a city, park or recreation facility to get people up and active.
How to Increase Walkability
Time, safety, distance, poor city planning, disability and age can be some of the common barriers to walking regularly. When people are in a rush, they tend to find other means of transportation than walking. Safety can encompass anything from crime to poor road conditions and poor drivers. A city that is sprawled out or has a less than ideal public transit system can reduce the amount of walking as well. Disability and age-related disabilities can also hinder one’s ability to walk.
Although individuals ultimately make the decision to walk, programs and policies can increase the opportunities for community walking. Creating enhanced access to places for walking with informational outreach, social support interventions for behaviour change, individually-adapted health behaviour change programs, and community-wide campaigns can all help increase walkability.
Several sectors need to do their part to increase walkability: transportation, land-use, community design, parks and recreational, and fitness facilities all play a part. Also important are public schools, colleges and universities, worksites, volunteer and non-profit organizations, healthcare groups, media, and public health sectors, as they can help influence it the most. With everyone working together, we can increase the overall well-being of our communities. For more information, check out the Surgeon General’s official call to action here.
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