Take a Hike- The U.S. Surgeon General wants Americans to enjoy the health benefits of walking

Instead of being a nation of binge television watchers, the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, wants Americans to get out and walk. Why walking?

According to Dr. Murthy, “We know that an active lifestyle is critical to achieving good overall health. And walking is a simple, effective and affordable way to build physical activity into our lives. That is why we need to step it up as a country ensuring that everyone can choose to walk in their own communities.”

Fewer than half of all U.S. adults get enough physical activity to reduce their risk of chronic disease, and physical inactivity contributes to heart and lung disease, diabetes and cancer, which account for 86 percent of our nation’s health care costs. Building walking into daily life can reduce disease and save money.

“An average of 22 minutes a day of physical activity – such as brisk walking – can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes,” added Dr. Murthy. “The key is to get started because even a small first effort can make a big difference in improving the personal health of an individual and the public health of the nation.”

Another reason to walk? Walking has social benefits as well. After a day at work or at school, you can walk and talk with a friend or family member. It can be a way to connect to someone and to spend some time together. Dr. Murthy shares that he takes a walk with his wife, Alice, after work.

It starts by putting one foot in front of the other.. Dr. Murthy shares this motivating thought, “The great thing about walking is that it is very versatile, a little bit of walking can have a big impact when it comes to improving health.”

Our own Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Stephen Ondra, can attest to Dr. Murthy’s initiative on benefits of walking. Dr. Ondra and Dr. Murthy are former Washington, D.C. colleagues who have both worked to promote healthier lifestyles. Dr. Ondra recently focused on his own efforts to build more walking into his daily life instead of watching television and eating snacks as he had a habit of doing each evening. Instead, each evening after dinner, he takes a walk with his wife. That action, combined with a few other lifestyle choices, led to a loss of more than 60 pounds and a healthier biometric screening result.

Dr. Ondra shares, “A walk is something that you can do that is healthy. It helps you process the day a little bit better and you just feel better. I parked farther away from the door and the entrance to the building making sure that if there’s 3 flights of steps, that I walk instead of take the elevator for 2 or 3 flights.”

Try using technology and mobile devices to help you make a lifestyle change. Dr. Murthy suggests, “Technology can aid us, we can use social media and apps to share the progress we are making. We have lot of people who use counters or apps that track the number of steps they take each day.”

Consider also adding some motivating music. Moderate exercise like walking was made for music. Turn on the tunes to help keep you motivated. 

With colder weather coming, it may not seem the best time to begin a walking program but that doesn’t mean you can’t take your walk indoors. Dr. Murthy reminds us that weather doesn’t have to be a factor, “Whether you are living in Chicago or living in Miami where I am from and the summers are hot and humid, institutions and communities can create places for people to walk. Shopping malls around the country have opened up for mall walkers. YMCAs, department stores and schools can often be options if we work together to reclaim the culture of physical activity.”

And what’s Dr. Murthy’s next step? An invitation to Dr. Ondra. The next time Dr. Ondra’s in Washington, D.C., he’d like for him to join in for a walking meeting (playlist optional).

To read the Surgeon General’s Call to Action and learn how to promote walking and walkable communities, please visit www.surgeongeneral.gov/stepitup.

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