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Step It Up! The Surgeon General wants to see more walking and walkable communities

America’s Doctor wants Americans to walk more.

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general, released his “Step It Up” call to action Wednesday at Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Total Health in Washington, District of Columbia, saying Americans need to walk regularly to combat heart disease and diabetes, while at the same time recognizing that the way neighborhoods are designed often are unsafe or aren’t conducive to walking.

In communities without parks, sidewalks or streetlights, recreational walking is difficult — and, for the elderly and people with disabilities, sometimes impossible due to missing curb cuts for wheelchairs, walkers and strollers and a lack of safety signals for the visually impaired.

“For too many seniors and people living with disabilities, and those who are economically disadvantaged, having the ability to be physically active is an economic issue,” Murthy said at the event.

He evoked America’s history with walking as a way to bring about attention to social issues: Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington for civil rights, the parade for women’s suffrage and the Capital Crawl for inclusion of people with disabilities.

Today, though it’s not obvious to many, whether a community is walkable and accessible often is a sign of disparity and inequality. While poverty in other countries is often characterized by inadequate calorie intake, in the U.S. it tends to be marked by improper nutrition coupled with a sedentary lifestyle. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 30 percent of Americans don’t live in communities with sidewalks.

An average of 22 minutes a day of physical activity – such as brisk walking – can dramatically reduce the risk for chronic ailments including cancer and lung disease, and is key to relieving stress.


But Americans of all ages aren’t walking as much as they are supposed to. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, fewer than half adults in the U.S. get enough physical activity to reduce their chronic disease risk. Among high school students, only a quarter get the recommended amount.

The U.S. News Health Care Index shows the government now takes a greater role in health care coverage through President Obama’s health care law, the Affordable Care Act, and as such is taking a greater role in making Americans healthier to prevent the crippling cost of chronic illness, which accounts for 86 percent of the country’s health care costs.

“You don’t need a fancy gym membership or a special set of skills to walk,” Murthy said. He called on city planners and local officials to design communities so that they are safe for walking.

The Kaiser Permanente event included a prominent commitment to inclusion of people with disabilities in its Call to Action.

“You walk, I roll,” Juliette Rizzo, Ms. Wheelchair America 2005, said at the event. “And I hope you find the courage to join us all.”

Article was originally posted by U.S. News.

Read the full report from the Surgeon General, here.

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