Hey Parks and Rec, Let’s Get People Walking

By Zarnaaz Bashir | Posted on July 15, 2013

Why do you like to walk? In addition to getting fit, people walk for various reasons. Some enjoy walking their dog every morning and breathing in the fresh morning air. Some walk after consuming a large meal to help them digest and burn off some calories. Others like to walk to blow off some steam after a long day. I cherish evening walks with my family to spend time together and talk about our day. Walking is the most popular form of physical activity in the United States.

But what if you did not have a safe and convenient place to walk?

America Walks, a national, nonprofit organization focused on building a diverse and powerful coalition to be a strong voice to advance and protect walking at the national level, identified the following benefits to communities for walking:

  • Walking is an easy, accessible, and inexpensive form of physical activity; adults that get 150 minutes a week (even as three ten minutes bouts of walking per day) will meet recommended physical activity guidelines.
  • Walking is for everyone, including seniors, people with disabilities and those needing assistive devices, etc.
  • Walking drastically reduces medical costs.
  • People walking are the indicator of economically vibrant areas, including main streets in small towns, and suburban town centers.
  • More people walking means more eyes on the street, therefore increasing security.
  • Walking is a basic human right that is commonplace in many civil rights movements.
  • Walking is wonderful recreation and perfect way to enjoy our natural environment.

In an effort to encourage people to walk more and to build policies and strategies that will make communities everywhere more walkable, the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin announced that she will be issuing a Call to Action on walking. To support the Call to Action, the Every Body Walk! Campaign, which was catalyzed by Kaiser Permanente to get Americans moving and make communities more walkable, has become a collaborative involving numerous organizations, including NRPA. America Walks serves as the collaborative’s coordinator.

On June 25th, I joined the U.S. Surgeon General, representatives from CDC, and America Walks for an expert panel meeting to inform the Call to Action, and support walking and walkability as a way for Americans to become more active. At this meeting, seven “sectors” of the draft Call to Action report were shared to obtain perspectives from a group of experts on making it easier for Americans to walk.

One of the sectors was Parks, Recreation, Fitness and Sports.

What pleased me most was that parks and recreation has been and continues to be recognized as a key component for improving health and increasing physical activity, including walking, through facility design and use, programming and education. Parks provide measurable health benefits, from providing direct contact with nature and a cleaner environment, to opportunities for physical activity and social interaction.

Parks and recreation must continue to demonstrate the value that we have in enhancing accessibility to parks and trails as a means of promoting walkable communities. Not only that, you can be leaders in your community for walking by helping create an environment that supports walkability and championing walking initiatives that get people walking. This falls right in line with the NRPA Three Pillars, especially the pillar focusing on health and wellness.

To support the Surgeon General’s call to action, a Walking Summit was planned for October, 2013, in Washington, D.C. More information on the Walking Summit and collaborative can be found at www.EverybodyWalk.org.

What do you love most about walking? Does your agency promote walking and walkability? What types of resources or information would you need to help you promote walking in your community?