By Lisa Ziegel
The grim news is inescapable: Inactivity and incidence of overweight and obesity are still occurring in epidemic proportions, along with the health issues that accompany them, (such as heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and more). Much time and effort have been put into finding solutions to bring this national crisis under control. Besides an anti-inflammatory diet, engaging people in physical activity would be the easiest and least expensive approach to easing the problem. Research has gone into what modes and methods of getting people active are best, but now a new initiative is working to get an affordable, easy, and universally acceptable action plan “off the ground and rolling” so to speak. That is, Everybody Walk – a collaboration among medical professionals, education, business and community leaders designed to promote walking as a means of disease prevention as well as community building.
Kaiser Permanente, the driving force behind the program, conducted a survey in 2013 to get an idea of how the public feels about walking and what would motivate them to start a walking program or to get them to walk more. The majority of respondents viewed walking as a favorable activity and understood the health benefits as well as the fact that if more people walked, it would benefit neighborhoods and communities. In spite of their opinions, only 11% reported they are achieving the minimum amount of daily walking/activity recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine (30 minutes per day). Reasons given for falling short of this goal included safety concerns, both because of traffic and lack of access to safe sidewalks, and fear of crime. Besides environmental reasons, others cited lack of physical energy and apprehension about walking alone. So how can the Everybody Walk effort turn these drawbacks around and get people to move?
With technology and social media leading the way, it is now easier to get the word out and find effective ways of reaching out to the public. Utilizing popular media sites to capture attention and get people to internally embrace the walking/health connection via emotional appeals and getting them to understand the real value of the benefits to them, (rather than making a too-general appeal), are proven tools in other aspects of marketing, so they could work here too. For example, using YouTube to tell success stories about people who have overcome negative odds and are now enjoying great health outcomes as a result of walking can reach a large number of viewers (and, of course, Everybody Walk has its own YouTube Channel).
A great use of technology would be to employ any one of several apps that can be downloaded onto phones (either iOS or Android) with many of them free. These provide immediate feedback with data about not only the number of steps and/or distance traveled, but also calories burned, and amount of time spent. This information can be uploaded onto Websites and shared. Data can be stored and used to track progress so that improvements can be noted. People who interface with heart-rate monitors can measure actual physical improvement (seen in lower heart rates). Not coincidentally, Everybody Walk offers its own app with links to Facebook and Twitter. An app called ‘Map My Walk’ has a very social aspect, one where you can search for groups to join or start your own group, or you can find like-minded individuals in your area to join you on a route, thus taking care of the concern about walking alone.
Other popular walking initiatives include group walks organized by city recreation departments, walk-to-school groups organized by parents, and mall-hosted walking groups. In the workplace, employees are not only walking for health and recreation, but also using it as an opportunity to get outside of the office and to spark creativity by holding walking meetings.
By talking it up and continuing to promote the benefits of the one simple thing that most anyone can do and that everyone can afford (because it is FREE) and by promoting a culture that will make walking second nature (like in Australia, where taxi drivers routinely let their passengers out well ahead of their destination so that they can get more walking in), we can start to enjoy the many benefits of walking. Programs such as Everybody Walk can make a difference, but it should be a joint effort that leaders, physicians, educators, parents and communities can all take part in to strengthen our collective health and our communities.