The nation's top doctor, the U.S. Surgeon General, has issued a prescription too all Americans: Walk more. Americans are not getting enough physical activity and walking is easy, cheap, and everyone over the age of 1 or so knows how to do it.
Government statistics show that only half of adults and just over a quarter of high school students get the recommended amount of physical activity for good health, said Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. He issued a "call to action" on the matter.
Getting exercise does not mean having to join a gym or run for miles. Walking is a simple, if people have a good place for it. Murthy added that communities will have to step up and make neighborhoods easier and safer for foot traffic. Many towns and neighborhoods are not set up for walking, with schools, restaurants, and shops too far from home for people to walk. Streets may lack sidewalks or not have crosswalks at intersections. Sidewalks that are in poor repair may cause falls in older adults. Neighborhood crime rates may also deter walking.
Taking part regularly in physical activity reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and many other health problems. For people with chronic illnesses, physical activity can ease symptoms and improve their quality of life.
In 2008, the government issued guidelines that recommend that adults get at least 2.5 hours of moderately intense physical activity each week. For walking, moderate intensity means that your pace should be brisk enough that you can still talk but not sing. Children should be active for at least an hour each day.
Creating walkable communities will require efforts from groups ranging from transportation officials and city planners to businesses and health officials, and the public, Murthy's report makes clear. Options range from zoning decisions and building sidewalks, to promoting worksite activity such as holding some meetings while taking a walk.