Walk and Bike for Health: Easy Exercise Programs Target Physical Activity

In Fitness

A national non-profit organization, America on the Move, wants us to think of September as STEPtember. Dedicated to helping people take small steps toward the goal of leading healthier lives, they are encouraging us to walk 10,000 steps a day. It’s not hard to do. First, of course, you have to buy a pedometer and clip it to your waistband or belt to measure your steps. Then, take the stairs, hand-deliver a memo, walk at lunchtime, park in the furthest parking space, or schedule a walking meeting rather than a sit-down meeting in a stuffy room.

Based on scientific studies and first popularized in Japan, the 10,000 steps philosophy helps those who put it into action prevent weight gain. Ten thousand steps translates into about 4 miles, so it represents a big increase in daily activity for most office workers. America on the Move also recommends that 10,000 steppers pair the exercise with healthy eating choices. To lose weight, steppers need to cut calories.

It sounds simple enough, but as with so many other things, the best intentions often lose out to a busy schedule. America on the Move recognizes this and suggests that as an alternative, people try to add just 2,000 extra steps and eat 100 fewer calories each day. Make small changes, stick to them, and then add more walking to your routine with time.

How Far is 10,000 Steps? You Should Do It for Good Health!

“My doctor recommended that I walk 10,000 steps a day, but I’m not a poster child for the program,” said an accountant who wished to remain anonymous. “I think the American Heart Association was recommending the program.” A Google search on “10,000 steps” returns millions of hits. Many health and wellness programs propose walking 10,000 steps a day as a means to get that 30-minutes-a-day of exercise prescribed by the Surgeon General. “I calculated the 10,000 steps as being 4.73 miles a day,” said the accountant. When the 10,000 steps program was endorsed by the American College of Sports Medicine, pedometer sales soared.

Some people have added steps by walking in place while watching television or talking on the telephone. However the 10,000 steps are achieved, experts say extra activity thwarts heart disease, improves metabolism, strengthens bones and joints, and is a good basic program for people who are trying to maintain or improve their overall health. It also decreases fatigue and depression and reduces the risk of injury and serious health problems in older adults.

Safe Routes to School

BikeWalk Virginia supports STEPtember and many similar “get active” initiatives. For example, Stephanie Smith is the Safe Routes to School program coordinator for BikeWalk Virginia. “Safe Routes to School was initiated in Europe and caught on here in 1999-2000 to highlight the difficulty of allowing our kids to walk or bike to school,” said Smith. While 50 percent of American schoolchildren walked to school in 1969, only 15 percent do today. Concerns about less school recess time and the obesity epidemic also fuel support for the program. Safe Routes to School promoters recommend transportation and community plan engineering changes, help organize supervision for children who chose to walk, and provide more training in safe biking and walking rules.

The Safe Routes to School program was fully funded in a recent federal transportation bill. Lawmakers concerned about transportation hoped the initiative would get some vehicles off the road. One implementation of the Safe Routes to School program is the Walking School Bus. “Some residents in communities do this of their own accord,” said Smith. “They meet at a collection point like a bus stop and they all walk to school with adult supervision.” Smith believes the exercise is important and an added benefit is that children get to interact with the natural environment. Traveling at a slower pace, they see trees, birds, butterflies, turtles and trash and often make the connection between a healthy environment and their own health.

Working with Public School’s Health Initiative Program

Smith said that she is working with the Williamsburg-James City County Public School’s School Health Initiative Program to promote international Walk to School Day on October 3. Grant money has been awarded for the development of materials that describe and encourage the program. “It will incorporate bicycling and there will be incentives and prizes,” said Smith. “We are working to target all area schools.”

Physical Activity Prescription Pad

Another program funded through BikeWalk Virginia is a physical activity prescription pad that physicians use to prescribe a type of activity and its duration, intensity and frequency. A colorful, large-type brochure accompanies the prescription. It spells out risks and benefits and tells “patients” how to get started and what to do. The simple, no-nonsense text is action-oriented and convincing. “The concept came from programs in New Zealand and Canada. When something is formally written out and given to a person, rather than just being spoken to them, they are more likely to adhere to it.” Smith said that the Centers for Disease Control made them aware of the plan.

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