THE BLOG
05/16/2014 11:21 am ET | Updated Jul 16, 2014

How to Get America Back on Its Feet

Thanasis Zovoilis via Getty Images

What if there was a way to reduce the risk of many major diseases at the same time as helping improve your overall health, decreasing your weight and boosting your energy? And what if this treatment was simple to do and took only a few minutes each week?

And further, what if it contributed a cleaner environment and makes our communities safer and more fun?

Wait, it gets even better! What if this could be accomplished with no special equipment or training and it would cost absolutely nothing. You could do it any time and place you want--in fact, the vast majority of us have been doing it since the age of two.

Well, this breakthrough actually exists. Taking a walk (or rolling on a bike or in wheelchair) for 30 minutes a day will cut your chances of dementia, depression, anxiety, diabetes, colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and osteoporosis by at least 40 percent, according to a surge of recent medical research.

Growing numbers of Americans are ready to embrace the benefits of walking. Going for a walk is already our favorite activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and we walk six percent more on average than a decade ago. Walkable communities -- where schools, shops and entertainment can be easily reached on foot -- are a red-hot real estate trend. A new coalition of more than 500 local advocacy groups, America Walks, is pushing to make walking more convenient and safe across the country.

A national movement to promote walking was launched last fall at the Walking Summit in Washington, DC, attended by more than 400 people from 41 states and 235 organizations, ranging from AARP to the NAACP to the Sioux Falls (SD) Health Department.

Americans will get even more encouragement to take a stroll this year when the US Surgeon General's office releases an official Call to Action on Walking and Walkability, which highlights the mounting medical evidence that walking is one of the best ways to prevent disease and stay healthy.

Yet the CDC reports that 52 percent of all Americans still don't meet the CDC's recommended minimum for physical activity: 30 minutes a day five days a week for adults, and one hour a day for kids.

To change this situation, more than two dozen leaders of the emerging walking movement gathered this spring in Washington, DC to work on a compelling message to encourage more Americans to walk. The meeting--sponsored by Every Body Walk!, a collaborative of more than 100 organizations representing health care, business, government and citizen organizations.

What Stops Us From Walking?

A national opinion survey sponsored by the Kaiser Permanente health care organization listed people's most common reasons for not walking:

*Few places within walking distance of my home: 40 percent
*Don't have time: 39 percent
*Don't have the energy: 36 percent
*Lack of sidewalks or speeding traffic: 25 percent
*No one to walk with: 25 percent
*Crime in my neighborhood: 13 percent

What We Can Do to Get America Back on its Feet

Here's a compilation of ideas to overcome these barriers coming out of the walking strategy meeting:

Let folks know that the benefits of walking go beyond health
You'll enjoy more vitality and energy. You'll experience less stress and anxiety. You'll look better and feel more creative. You'll know your neighbors better and enjoy a greener community You'll have more fun.

Enlist high-profile local figures to schedule regular public walks.
People will don their sneakers for the chance to walk with a public official, athlete, entertainer or physician.

Plan regular walks with friends & family
Suggest a walk first and then maybe a meal or drink or movie.

Organize a Walking Club
Like a book club, but with water bottles instead of novels.

Turn Your Coffee Break into a Stroll
Recruit co-workers for a refreshing trot out on the sidewalk or around the campus.

Post Signs Around Town Listing the Walking Times to Popular Destinations
Walk Raleigh, a fledgling group in Raleigh, North Carolina, hung up 27 handmade signs around downtown that became so popular the city posted their own official versions.

Mark a Community Walking Route
A walk after dinner is an enduring custom in Mediterranean and Latin American countries. Italians call it a passeggiata. People follow the same route through the heart of town, making it a social occasion as much as exercise regimen.

Tell everyone: "If they can walk in LA, we can do it here."
Famous for auto-cracy, Los Angeles actually harbors many walkers and hosts the Big Parade, an "epic public walk" that covers 40 miles and 100 public stairways over two days accompanied by food, music and art. Every town could create its own walking parade or festival.