As we all know, living a physically active lifestyle is one of the most important steps people can take to improve their health. On September 9, the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, released his Call to Action on Walking and Walkable Communities titled Step it Up!, explaining to the nation that, “Walking is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to build up physical activity in your life.” The report not only encourages people of all abilities to get out and take a brisk walk every day but it also calls on professionals and advocates from many sectors — including parks and recreation — to create safe, supportive environments for everyone to walk or wheelchair roll.
The announcement marks an important point in the preventative health of our nation as it transitions the conversation of physical activity from education of individuals to creating a culture of health in communities. Currently only half of all adults and about a quarter of high school students meet the recommended amount of physical activity. Individuals face many barriers to getting this physical activity but when they live in supportive, walkable communities, research has found that they are more likely to meet physical activity recommendations.
A Focus on Equity
In low income, minority and chronically ill populations, levels of physical activity and walking are even lower. Many communities lack safe and accessible places to walk. "Everyone deserves to have a safe place to walk or wheelchair roll. But in too many of our communities, that is not the reality," said Dr. Murthy as he was surrounded by individuals representing groups from across the country. One of those individuals, Juliette Rizzo, a director at the U.S. Department of Education and recipient of Miss Wheelchair America, reminded the crowd that for individuals such as herself, rollable communities are not just important for health but also for independence, sense of well-being and transportation. Dr. Bob Sallis, a family physician and sports medicine expert at Kaiser Permanente, reminded us of the challenges of encouraging the most vulnerable patients to walk. “In our neighborhoods we find more and more people who are encountering difficulty with walking including safety issues” and that a “lack of walkable spaces has become a health equity issue,” said Dr. Murthy.
A Collaborative Approach
“This is a movement where all of us play a critical role” and “we have the responsibility to work together,” said Dr. Murthy addressing a diverse group of professionals.
Park and recreation professionals are specifically called on to increase access to safe places to walk and promote walking in our communities. “We know that people with access to parks and green space walk more than those who lack access,” said Dr. Murthy. It is our responsibility as park and recreation professionals to ensure that we are providing this access, promoting this access and creating opportunities for everyone to walk.
Goals of the Call to Action for Park and Recreation Professionals
The Call to Action outlines five goals to promote walking and walkable communities. Three of these goals are particularly relevant to parks and recreation and will help us to promote walking and increase walkability in our communities.
1. Design communities that make it safe and easy to walk for people of all ages and abilities.
2. Promote programs and policies to support walking where people live, learn, work, and play.
3. Provide information to encourage walking and improve walkability.
Although parks and recreation departments across the country have been making strides in creating walkable communities and promoting walking, we still have a long way to go. To achieve the goals of the Call to Action, everyone will need to play their part. With national attention, now is the time to Step it Up! and increase your efforts to get communities across America to walk more.
Here are some resources to get started:
• NRPA’s Safe Routes to Parks initiative provides great resources to help you get started in accomplishing the Step it Up! goals in your community.
• This includes an animated video you can use in your community or share on social media, infographics and more. Use the hashtags #WalkInAPark or #SafeRoutestoParks on social media to be in the conversation.
• On September 17, the U.S. House Transportation committee is scheduled to vote on a new multi-year transportation bill. The bill currently funds the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), dedicated to active transportation infrastructure. This program is under attack and may be cut from the program. Send your support to Congress and ensure funding for walkable communities!
Step it Up! calls on all of us to change the pattern of physical inactivity and increase access to safe and convenient places to walk and wheelchair roll. What will you or your agency do to support the Call to Action?
Join the conversation by leaving a comment below or tweet us @NRPA_News using the hashtags #WalkInAPark and #SafeRoutestoParks.
Rachel Banner, MPH, is a program manager for NRPA.