Of Tennis Shoes, Sidewalks, and Crosswalks

By Colleen Doyle, MS, RD

I wrote this blog in my head first, while I was on a walk. I was thinking about how fortunate I am to live in an area that I can walk – safely – for fitness and fun, for date nights and errands. But it wasn’t always that way.

My family and I used to live in a neighborhood where we could not walk to anything from our home. Besides having no stores, restaurants, schools, dry cleaners – you name it – within a reasonable walking distance, the road leading to our neighborhood was narrow, had no sidewalks, and people sped down that road with reckless abandon.

When we decided to move “in town,” we were ecstatic. I could walk or ride my bike to work, our kids could bike to school, and we could even walk to the gym to get our workouts in. We saved lots of money by not having to fill up our gas tanks so frequently. We felt less stress from not having to drive as often on traffic-packed highways and roads.  Physical, financial and quality of life benefits — all from living in an area where we could get out and walk, safely, and for multiple purposes. 

The Surgeon General’s Call to Action

All this has been on my mind because a new report is being released today: The Surgeon General’s Call to Action on Walking and Walkable Communities. And I am hopeful that individuals, organizations, and communities will step up and take notice. And take action. [more]

Encouraging walking, and working together with partners to make it easier for all Americans to walk more and to be more active, is critical to the mission of the American Cancer Society. For the 80% of Americans who do not use tobacco products, living a physically active lifestyle is one of the most important ways to reduce cancer risk. And among some groups of cancer survivors, physical activity has been linked to improvements in survival, as well as in fatigue, anxiety, depression, self-esteem, happiness, and quality of life. 

The issue of reducing barriers to physical activity in communities is so critical to our mission, in fact, that our Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention include what we call our Recommendation for Community Action: that public, private, and community organizations work collaboratively at national, state, and local levels to implement policy and environmental changes that provide safe, enjoyable, and accessible environments for physical activity in schools and worksites, and for transportation and recreation in communities. 

For many, but not all of us, walking is one of the easiest and most convenient ways to add more activity throughout each and every day. It has many health benefits – both short-term and long-term – and while we need good shoes (and sunscreen), we don’t need much else. But we do need communities that make it easier for us to walk and enjoy other physical activity opportunities safely. Unfortunately, many of us do not live in such communities. We may not have sidewalks and bike lanes. We may not have safe places for our children to play. We may live in areas of ‘sprawl’ that include large distances between homes and places of business, like grocery stores and restaurants.

This Call to Action challenges all of us to work together to increase physical activity and walking, in particular. Volunteer and non-profit organizations; business and industry; employers and schools; health care and public health professionals; community design experts; and the media: We all have a role to play.

What you can do: Speak up

So, what can you do? As an individual, make a commitment to walk more – to look for opportunities each and every day to get more steps. As a parent, be a good role model for your kids. Parents who are more active tend to have children who are more active. Speak up at their schools, ensuring that physical education classes are held regularly, and that activity is incorporated throughout the school day; and encourage participation in Walk and Bike to School initiatives.

As an employee, speak up for participation in Walk and Bike to Work initiatives (even if you don’t live close enough to walk or bike!). Ask for programs and policies that encourage and support more activity throughout the day.

As a community member, speak up at City Council meetings for more sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes, parks, and green space. Speak up for public transportation (it’s estimated that 90% of transit trips include walking at the beginning or ending of a trip). Speak up for “traffic calming” efforts, designed to slow down cars driving through your neighborhood.  Speak up for more neighborhood watch groups and police patrols to help promote safer environments.

Currently, only 50% of adults and 25% of our youth meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommendations. For adults, that recommendation is at least 150 minutes of an activity like walking each week and for youth, it’s 60 minutes each day. Working together to make it easier for all Americans to be active – where they live, work, play and learn – can help improve the health of our nation and importantly, set our kids on a path to lifelong good health. What will you do, starting today, to help  achieve that goal?


Doyle is managing director of Healthy Eating, Active Living Environments for the American Cancer Society.

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