In late-August 2014, my travels took me to beautiful Zurich to speak at the annual meeting of HEPA Europe, which is the European Network for the promotion of Health Enhancing Physical Activity (thus HEPA). This group comes from 32 European countries and is sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO), which recently identified physical inactivity as the 4th leading risk factor for mortality in the world! That is really astounding when you think about it, because how much we get up and move is entirely under our control. That is why I think it is so important to spread the word about the health benefits of walking. I suspect most American’s do not realize just how important exercise is for good health and that being a couch potato significantly increases your chances of dying prematurely.
The HEPA network is composed of a great group of scientists and clinicians dedicated to helping get people in Europe more physically active. This group clearly understands the risks associated with sedentary behavior and has expertise in promoting physical activity across all sectors of society. There were talks on everything from active transportation to making communities more walkable to the promotion of sports across the lifespan. It was a great chance for me to hear about some of the latest research on physical activity from a European perspective, to see old friends and to make some new ones.
I spoke on how healthcare systems around the world can and should be promoting health enhancing physical activity to patients. This is important because I believe the evidence is quite clear that physical inactivity is the biggest public health problem of our time and regular walking is like a medicine that can reduce the incidence of chronic diseases and help people live longer. So for that reason, I think it is critical that doctors everywhere prescribe regular exercise – like walking, to all of their patients. And of course, that is the purpose of the Every Body Walk! campaign and this blog.
As always, I took some time to get in my daily walks during this trip and Zurich is a great city in which to do this. The meeting was held at the University of Zurich, which was a short walk from our downtown hotel. From there I could walk along the beautiful Limmat River which flows right thru the middle of town and into Lake Zurich. Both the river and the lake are surrounded by walking trails that make it easy to enjoy some beautiful views while you walk. Zurich is also home to an amazing public transport system, including trains, trams and buses. By having fewer cars, people are forced to walk in order to get around which has a double benefit of enhancing the environment and improving health.
I hope this blog finds you well and that you are doing your best each day to do the walking you need to stay healthy.