For Immediate Release: April 3, 2014
Op-ED: Taking Steps Toward a Healthier World
By William W. Dexter, MD, FACSM
President, American College of Sports Medicine
Millions of Americans have recently signed up for health insurance, while a vigorous national dialogue continues about how to get access for all to top-quality health care, and how to afford it. The World Day for Physical Activity – Sunday, April 6 – reminds us of one way we can all improve our health with minimal cost and an array of co-benefits.
World Physical Activity Day is organized by the Agita Mundo Network headquartered in South America, but we in the Northern Hemisphere have special reason to celebrate. After what seemed an interminable winter, spring is returning, bringing hints of green, longer days and a bountiful set of options for healthy, active lives.
Walking (or rolling, for those using wheelchairs, strollers or skates) is the most universal form of physical activity. No special equipment or umpires needed; just head outside and get in some steps while you note how spring is brightening your neighborhood. The Every Body Walk! Collaborative, becoming a nation-wide phenomenon (www.everybodywalk.org), embodies the universality and joy of walking. Its goal, put simply, is to encourage walking and walkability.
The Science behind Physical Activity and Walking
Dr. Bob Sallis, past president of the American College of Sports Medicine and physician spokesman for the Every Body Walk! Campaign, makes a vivid case for walking:
If we had a pill that conferred all the proven health benefits of walking, physicians would prescribe it to every patient and health care systems would find a way to make sure every patient had access to this wonder drug.
The dosage for this wonder drug – and as its ability to help prevent and treat chronic diseases such as diabetes and coronary heart disease – are verified by research. Federal physical activity guidelines recommend an hour of moderate-to-vigorous activity daily for children and adolescents, and 30 minutes for adults. The benefits, beyond individual health and well-being, include lower health care costs, better student achievement and productivity, reduced environmental impact, and much more.
More good news: Ten-minute bouts of activity count toward your daily total, and “physical activity” is a broadly inclusive moniker. Sports, swimming dancing and aerobics count, but so do walking and activities of daily living like gardening, biking to school or work and active play. Who couldn’t find ten minutes several times a day by parking a bit further from the office, walking to the post office, or playing with the kids after supper?
And why restrict physical activity to the human species? Studies show that dog owners are more active. I know an expert with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control who finds all the relevant research only strengthens her commitment to canine companions. Measured in dog years or people years, they all enjoy the health benefits of daily walks and play.
Walking and Walkability: Part of the Plan
Every Body Walk!, and the scores of organizations and initiatives behind it, are a very visible part of implementing the U.S. National Physical Activity Plan (www.physicalactivityplan.org). Through the Plan, hundreds of organizations are working together to change our communities in ways that will enable every American to be sufficiently physically active. Working in every sector of American society, from education and health care to industry and mass media, the Plan identifies policy solutions to address disparities in access to the physical activity that can help each of us lead healthier, more productive lives.
As you watch your community greening up this spring, think about how you can help your family and neighbors enjoy being a bit more active. Walking to school and ensuring everyone has access to a neighborhood park are partial answers. What can you do to dial up physical activity at your workplace or house of worship? What are the barriers keeping some members of your community from walking for health?
Please think about this on Sunday, April 6 as you celebrate World Day for Physical Activity, and put it into action year ‘round. We can’t solve the global health crisis in a day, but we can take steps.
Editors: Information and an infographic on U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines are available at: