Surgeon general has the right prescription for health

Brisk walking can have as many health benefits as running, according to a new study.
Brisk walking can have as many health benefits as running, according to a new study. The Associated Press file, 2002

The U.S. surgeon general has a common-sense prescription to help get Americans in better shape: Walk more. But Dr. Vivek Murthy recognizes that too many communities don’t make that easy to do, and he’s urging communities to get serious about becoming more walkable.

Only half of adults and just over a quarter of high school students get the amount of physical activity they need for good health. Part of that deficit is the fact that so many of us drive everywhere, when we could get health benefits by hoofing it places.

While cities in the South Sound – such as University Place and Lakewood – have been investing in sidewalks, it’s still common to see people having to negotiate busy streets because there’s no safe place to walk, including children on their way to school, young mothers pushing baby carriages and disabled people in motorized wheelchairs.

Our suburban neighborhoods were designed with the automobile in mind. Many people live in homes that are too far away from shopping, parks, schools and businesses to make it convenient to walk instead of drive.

Filling potholes is important. But it’s also important to make communities more walkable. That’s been found not only to increase property values – retiring baby boomers and families with young children are searching for such places to live – but it can also help protect our brains.

A University of Kansas study found that “neighborhoods that motivate walking can stave off cognitive decline in older adults” in addition to lowering body mass and blood pressure.

Even walking half an hour a day can have significant health results. A new study from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that briskly walking can lower the risk of hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes just as much as running – and it’s a lot easier on the joints. And the American Heart Association also points out that walking has the lowest dropout rate of any type of exercise.

Citizens should ask their city officials what they’re doing to make the community more walkable. Does their city’s transportation plan have goals for more sidewalks, especially on streets children use to get to school, and applying for grants to help fund those improvements?

Every city should be striding toward those goals.

Get out and walk

To find good places in Tacoma and Pierce County to walk, go to cityoftacoma.org/visitors and click on “Hiking and Biking Trails.”