I’m participating in a pilot program here at work designed to encourage physical activity and, ultimately, lead to improved wellness. The program involves wearing a wristband – not unlike a pedometer – that tracks movement. Each participant monitors his or her individual movements, but we’re also aiming for a group goal, too.
While all sorts of activities can be tracked with the band, from jumping rope to biking to dancing to housework (one less reason to put off washing those dishes) and more, it seems that good old-fashioned walking and jogging are the easiest movements to track. That’s good news for me, because walking is one of my favorite activities. I love taking long walks to think, unwind, get a little exercise and keep tabs on what’s happening in my city.
So while I’m already a regular walker, this program has encouraged me to take it to the next level. Now, on a workday when I might have previously felt too busy and stressed to leave my desk, I’ll force myself to head out for a lunchtime walk. Or I wake up a little earlier for a quick morning stroll, or I take the long way to the office – anything to get in some extra activity. And in addition to my extracurricular walking, I’ll also walk to my destination, whether it’s a store, the bus stop or my office, whenever possible.
With all the walking I’ve been doing lately, I was all the more surprised by the news that less than a quarter of Americans use “active transportation,” like walking or biking, to get to their destinations. That’s one of the lowest rates in the world. By skipping that exercise, Americans may be putting their health in jeopardy.
“We knew that many studies have demonstrated that physical activity can help prevent a variety of conditions like high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and serum lipid abnormalities – all risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease,” said Gregg Furie, M.D., of the Yale School of Medicine, who led a study investigating how much Americans walk – not for recreational or leisure activity, but for transportation.
Using cross-sectional data from the 2007-2008 and 2009-2010 cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), Furie and his colleague, Mayur M Desai, Ph.D., associate professor at the Yale School of Public Health, found that less than 25 percent of U.S. adults in a nationally representative sample reported walking or bicycling for transportation for more than 10 minutes continuously in a typical week. People who do engage in active transportation on average had lower body mass indexes and lower odds of hypertension compared to those who didn’t.
“This information adds to the weight of evidence that suggests more work is necessary to develop environmental policies that make it safer, easier, and more desirable for people to walk and bike for transportation,” Furie said.
Is there anything you can do at your place of employment to encourage workers to walk more? Whether it’s a wellness program like the one I’m participating in, or maybe even just organized group lunchtime walks or incentives for biking to work or taking public transportation, there just might be way to get workers to walk the path to improved health.
And if your company does offer wellness programs that encourage walking or biking – either as a form of transportation or exercise – please share your experiences in the comment section.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to hit the pavement. Happy trails.
Information about the study is attributed to the Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health. The study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.