Walking: It's Becoming a Thing

Jun 2, 2011, 3:54 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

It’s a couch potato’s dream. In New York City, residents are getting exercise without even realizing it. The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recently released a report, “Health Benefits of Active Transportation in New York City,” that finds that most New Yorkers get more physical activity getting from place to place than they do from intentional exercise.

And, according to the report, the benefits abound:

  • On average, people who walk or bike to work log more than an hour of active transportation time daily.
  • In addition to reducing premature death, brisk walking or biking for a half hour every weekday reduces the risk of heart disease.
  • Brisk walking for 20 to 30 minutes per day also can reduce diabetes risk by 30%.

New York City has made changes to its infrastructure to improve pedestrian safety, including widening street lanes, expanding sidewalks and adding countdown clocks at street crossings that let pedestrians know when the light is about to turn red.

But even communities where traveling by foot isn’t a part of everyday life are creating new walking opportunities. In Kansas City, Kansas, residents and volunteers are working with their surroundings to encourage walking as a leisure-time activity.

“Kansas, unlike New York, has very little public transportation infrastructure, causing most residents to use personal vehicles for movement between destinations,” says Caitlin McMurtry, an analyst with the Kansas Health Institute. As a result, says McMurtry, most people have fewer opportunities to exercise, “since walking to the garage is a lot closer than walking to the subway station.”

AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers have partnered with neighborhood development associations to revamp the physical environment and create walking clubs. Using practices recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and funding from the National Network of Public Health Institutes, the Rosedale Development Association and their volunteers are rehabilitating local walking trails by installing park benches, extra lighting, and trail markers.

Other resources for walkability information include:

Weigh in: Do you live in a walkable community?

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.