Earlier this month US Surgeon General launched the Step It Up! campaign to promotes walking and walkable communities to improve personal and community health. The campaign calls on the nation to improve or enhance safe and convenient access to pedestrian routes, while also encouraging pedestrian activities.
Being physical activity is an important component to good health. Anchorage is a city brimming with physical activity opportunities – biking, running, swimming, skiing, hiking, climbing – you name it, people do it! And while being physically active is one of the most important things a person can do to improve his/her health, less than half of all American adults get the 150 minutes per week of physical activity recommended by the Center for Disease Control.
But there is hope! Walking is a low-impact, inexpensive way to positively impact your health, environment and community AND it has the lowest drop-out rate of all physical activities. By walking 30 minutes each day, you reduce the risk of heart disease, improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels, lower the risk for obesity, enhance mental well-being and reduce the risk of breast and colon cancers. So many benefits from a single activity (American Heart Association).
Reports show that the number of people walking has increased in the past five years (CDC); however, barriers do exist that can discourage people from hoofing it. Demanding work, school and home life can mean there isn’t enough time to walk, while illness, age or disability can make walking challenging. Destinations can be too far to walk to, and sometimes safety concerns, like traffic dangers, no sidewalk or unsafe neighborhoods, prevent people from walking.
In Anchorage, we have an incredible network of trails that provides walking opportunities and connectivity to most parts of the city, along with programs that support walkability. Safe Routes to School encourages students to bike and walk to school while emphasizing the importance of safe pathways. The Neighborhood Fix-it Program partners the Anchorage Park Foundation and Municipal Parks & Recreation with community volunteers to improve and restore parks – which can be great places to walk!
But we can be even better! In fact, WalkScore, a website that scores cities’ walkability based on pedestrian friendliness and distance to amenities, gives Anchorage a 32 out of 100 Walk Score, meaning we are vehicle-dependent city, relying on cars for most of our errands. So we have room to improve.
By working together we can make walking easier. For example, you could start a walking group with neighbors or friends. Employers can identify pedestrian paths near the workplace with maps. Launch a neighborhood clean-up that will lead to a more attractive pedestrian route. Participate in planning processes that support walkability features like sidewalks, crosswalks, lighting and traffic calming features and residential development within walking distance of services, workplaces and transportation.
As we transition into cooler temperatures and shorter days, there’s no better time to step up and commit to walking! A Harvard University study found that 35-minute brisk walks 5 times each week are an effective way to beat the winter time blues. When you walk, you’re boosting your mind and doing something good for your body. You’re saving gas money and reducing pollution when you choose to walk instead of drive. Walking can be a great way to explore your city, meet friends and connect with others, all while staying healthy.
Step It Up – become part of a national movement for yourself, your family and your community!