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A New American Revolution: Walking in Pursuit of Happiness and Health

Jay Walljasper / Apr 19 2013

For Release Friday, April 19, 2013

Jay WalljasperThe next big health care breakthrough – which could cut rates of heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer and Alzheimers by at least 40 percent and save Americans $100 billion a year – comes from a place you’d least expect. On your block. At the park. Everywhere.

What’s this amazing treatment, which also happens to be easy, enjoyable and virtually free? It’s as simple as taking a walk.

“Walking is like medicine for my patients,” says Dr. Bob Sallis, a Kaiser Permanente family practitioner from Fontana, Calif., describing the connection between how much time his patients spend walking and their overall health. “If walking was a pill or surgical procedure, it would be on 60 Minutes.”

“Being physically active is one of the most important things people of all ages can do for their health,” explains Joan Dorn of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She notes walking ranks No. 1 among Americans’ favorite aerobic activities, and that walking as little as 30 minutes is one way to achieve significant health benefits.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin has announced that she is preparing a Call to Action on Walking, which is being compared to the famous 1964 Surgeon General’s Report on the dangers of smoking. “Walking is easy,” Dr. Benjamin told a group of health, business, education and government leaders who came together in Washington to advance a national walking movement. “Everyone can do it, and it’s fun. We have to make being healthy joyful.”

More than 100 organizations, ranging from the National PTA to the American Lung Association to AARP to NAACP to Nike, were at the meeting. Despite their varied missions, the vast majority agreed on two goals: 1) Encouraging everyone to walk more; and 2) Boosting policies, practices and investments to will make communities more walkable. A national summit to launch a walking movement is being planned for Oct. 1-3 (see details below).

The benefits of walking don’t stop at health. More people walking leads to safer hometowns, better student performance in school, a stronger sense of neighborliness, increased economic activity for local businesses and improved social equity among all Americans, notes Tyler Norris, vice president of the large nonprofit health care provider Kaiser Permanente.

Our country’s low rate of physical activity compared to others is not just laziness. To get Americans back on their feet we need to make movement once again a natural part of daily life. This calls for a close look at how people are either encouraged or discouraged from walking to work, schools, shops, parks and other destinations.

Lexer Quamie of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights advocates “equal opportunity in mobility,” to eliminate obstacles and dangers that make walking difficult or unsafe for many older, younger and low-income individuals and people with disabilities. She notes the pedestrian fatality rate for African Americans and Latinos is almost twice that of whites.

Real estate developer Christopher Leinberger outlines the powerful economic arguments in favor of walking. One-third of all assets in the U.S. today are real estate, he explains, “and there is a huge pent-up demand for walkable urbanism” – a term describing cities, suburbs and small towns with sidewalks and other pedestrian amenities. “All of the growth over the next generation, if we give the market what [people] want, will be walkable urbanism,” states Leinberger, a research professor at the George Washington University School of Business.

Americans already walk more than many people realize, as pedestrians account for 11 percent of daily transportation trips nationally, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. “But until now there has not been a unified voice to advocate for improving the built environment to increase walking for transportation, shopping and leisure,” notes Scott Bricker, executive director of America Walks.

Data from the Federal Highway Administration’s 2009 National Household Survey show Americans walk in surprisingly large numbers to work (35 percent), shops (40 percent) and school or church (46 percent) – when those places are a mile or less from home.

Six in ten Americans report taking a walk in the past week, a recent CDC publication reported. Yet 52 percent still don’t get the recommended minimum of physical activity: 30 minutes a day (60 for kids) five times a week.

There’s good news: Walking is on the rise. Americans are walking 6 percent more on average than in 2005. Also, young people show less enthusiasm for driving. Federal Highway Administration research shows vehicle miles traveled by drivers under 30 dropped from 21 percent of the total in 1995 to 14 percent by 2009 – an unprecedented 33 percent reduction that may well mark a cultural shift by the Millennial Generation. And the launch of a new walking movement offers promise for substantially increasing Americans’ physical activity.

Walking summit planned

A Walking Summit is planned for Oct. 1-3 in Washington. Details soon available at Every Body Walk! – catalyzed by Kaiser Permanente to get Americans moving and make communities more walkable – has become a collaborative involving a number of organizations. America Walks, a national coalition of local walking advocacy groups, serves as the collaborative’s coordinator. For more information see Every BodyWalk or contact:

Adapted from the booklet Walking Revolution. Jay Walljasper is a writer and speaker about how to make our communities more livable, sustainable, prosperous and lively. columns are not copyrighted and may be reproduced in print or electronically; please show authorship, credit and send an electronic copy of usage to


  1. Posted April 22, 2013 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    I remember times in my 20s back in England when I wouldn’t think anything of walking two miles, even as much as five miles was perfectly doable. Sure, I’d prefer to take a bus or cycle, but hey, sometimes walking is more fun.

    These days, I still don’t think anything of a two mile walk, but five miles is usually done on my bicycle.

    I guess I’m unusual, in that my mom used to walk everywhere – no distance too far, so I got my love of walking from her. Also, I never bought into the car culture – never learned to drive so I never owned a car. Also, unlike many westerners my age (50), I am not overweight (probably thanks to cycling and walking), so I still can walk 5 miles without needing an emergency room visit at the end of it.

    My 10 year-old daughter also likes to walk. She actually prefers walking to cycling. We have arguments, because although I like to walk, I prefer cycling. But I indulge her occasionally, so sometimes she takes the morning bus to school and we we walk the two miles home in the afternoon.

  2. Posted April 23, 2013 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

    I am hooked on volkswalking, a non-competitive sport with clubs in every state. It’s for fun, friendship, and fitness. All are welcome to participate for free. Club membership not required. Just show up and Walk with us or try out our pre-mapped routes with written directions on your own or with friends. Find resources at search events. Also 2 YouTube videos that explain what we do. Go to YouTube and type in volkswalking. I’ve been involved since 1985, working on 10,000 kilometers and 850 events. Love it!