Walking is such a great way to stay healthy that US Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy issued a special Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities last fall.
“Walking is a simple, effective and affordable way to build physical activity into our lives,” Murthy said. “That is why we need to step it up as a country ensuring that everyone can choose to walk in their own communities. Physical activity should not be the privilege of the few. It should be the right of everyone.”
The landmark report is based on definitive medical evidence that moderate physical exercise cuts your chances of diabetes, dementia, depression, colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, anxiety and high blood pressure by 40 percent or more.
A major study released this year shows that lack of exercise is twice as deadly as obesity, according to Cambridge University researchers who studied more than 300,000 people over 12 years. Another new groundbreaking study conducted over 50 years shows low levels of physical activity are more lethal than high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other closely-watched medical conditions.
Biking offers nearly the same health, economic and social benefits, although far fewer people bike today than walk—a situation that is being remedied by the widespread introduction of safer, more comfortable bike facilities such as protected bicycle lanes, special bike boulevards, better-connected networks of bikeways across communities and safer accommodation of bike riders at busy intersections.
Communities that encourage biking and walking are more healthy, vital places where people naturally want to live, work, shop and play. The American Planning Association recommends nine placemaking features to create these kind of strong, lively communities:
- Bicycle improvements, such as designated lanes and bike racks
- Traffic calming improvements, such as traffic circles and median islands in streets
- Crosswalks and walk and bike signals
- Aesthetic improvements, such as public art and fountains
- Public spaces, such as plazas and parks
- Street trees
- Green infrastructure, such as greenways and rain gardens
- Street furniture, such as benches, bus shelters and good signage
Health professionals, clinics, hospitals, insurance companies, medical schools, health care companies, public health agencies, non-profit organizations and research institutes in the field have important roles to play in promoting healthy placemaking projects. “By utilizing their facilities, land, funding capacity, employees, political power and other resources, the healthcare sector and its civic partners have a special opportunity to promote health and well-being in their communities,” say authors of The Case for Health Communities.