In late October 2015, my travels took me back to Washington DC to speak at the 2nd National Walking Summit. This event was sponsored by Kaiser Permanente and inspired by the Every Body Walk! Campaign and the multi-organizational collaborative that was created as a result of this campaign to get America walking. I am proud to have supported the campaign since its inception by then Kaiser Permanente CEO and Chairman of the Board George Halvorson and have watched it grow and gain support from multiple sectors of society.
The EBW campaign and National Walking Summit are rooted in the sad fact that over 50% of American adults suffer from one or more chronic diseases and that walking is a free medication that can dramatically reduce and improve the management of these costly conditions. When you combine that fact with the knowledge that walking has additional powerful effects on mood, energy level and functional capacity, it would seem that every healthcare provider should prescribe walking to every patient they see. Unfortunately, American medicine seems to have a singular focus on recommending pills and procedures as the only prescription for curbing this epidemic of chronic disease.
That is why I am proud to have practiced medicine at Kaiser Permanente my entire career. Our primary focus is on keeping our patients healthy and reducing the need for expensive pills and procedures. We have done this with a campaign called “Thrive” that encourages our patients to “live well and be well” in large part by not smoking, eating healthy and exercising daily. As a family physician, I have seen first-hand the powerful effect this simple formula can have on my patient’s health.
While eating right and not smoking have profound effects on health, I believe that walking is the single most important thing one can do to improve health and should be promoted at every opportunity. That is why every Kaiser patient is asked how much they exercise at every visit and their weekly minutes of exercise is looked at as a “vital sign”. Certainly at Kaiser we have been great advocates for not smoking and eating healthy – in fact we have removed junk foods and sugary beverages from all our hospital cafeterias. But too often I see the media exclusively focus on how obese we are in America and with no coherent message on what to do about it, other than buying the latest diet book, diet pill or bariatric surgery procedure. On the other hand walking is free, widely accessible and the benefits go well beyond helping to manage your weight. Everyone needs to know that walking provides the same benefits whether or not you lose weight and that when you control for physical activity, the effect of weight loss on longevity is minimal. So please don’t get overly discouraged about not being able to lose weight and know that you can still be healthy by walking every day. Research tells us that you are much better off being fat and fit, than skinny and unfit!
Of course, while in Washington DC I made sure to get out for my daily walks. In fact, one of my sessions at the Walking Summit was something called “Netwalking”, where I had the chance to lead a group of walking enthusiasts on a trek around Capital Hill and talk about our various perspectives on the walking movement. It was a great opportunity to network with like-minded folks working to promote walking in a wide range of innovative and exciting ways.
Meetings like the Walking Summit give me hope that our simple message about walking is finally starting to take hold. Unfortunately, funding to support this message is limited and goes against the powerful messaging and profit margins from the various diet books, pills and bariatric surgery procedures. And it is folks like you, who take the time to look at the broad range of information on our Every Body Walk! website and read my blog, that will spread the word on the numerous health benefits of walking. It is also you who will help to make our communities to become more walkable and through these efforts ultimately help stem the rising tide of chronic disease.
So thank you for your efforts in advancing this movement and for spreading the word on the powerful health benefits of walking!
Keep on walking my friends!
Featured image caption: “Walking in Washington DC at the National Walking Summit”