Before a packed room in Washington, DC in 2013, Dr. Bob Sallis revealed that researchers have discovered a “wonder drug” to prevent and treat many of today’s most persistent and serious medical problems. “The drug is called walking,” he declared at the 2013 Walking Summit. “Its generic name is physical activity.”
Recommended dosage is 30 minutes a day five days a week, he explained. Side effects may include weight loss, improved sleep, improved mood, stronger muscles and bones, as well as looking and feeling better.
The first Summit attracted 400 participants from 41 states and Canada, representing 235 organizations ranging from the PGA Tour and Marriott Hotels to the Sioux Falls (SD) Health Department and Bike Walk Greenville (SC). “Police care about walking because it’s good for public safety,” Tyler Norris told the crowd. “Developers are here because walking promotes successful economic development.
Environmentalists are here because walking reduces carbon emissions.”
One theme resonating through the event was that Americans’ low rate of walking compared to other nations is not because we are lazy. “We’ve have engineered walking out of our lives and we have to engineer it back in,” pointed out Raymond Baxter. “There’s no simpler, easier, more elegant and more enjoyable thing we can do for our health than walk.”
Shavon Arline-Bradley, then director of Health Programs at the NAACP, seconded that point by asking: “Is everybody welcome to walk? A lot of people don’t have sidewalks and don’t feel safe.”
The 2015 Walking Summit expanded on this message to assert that everyone has a right to walk. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy framed it as an issue of basic justice in his opening remarks. “We need to improve infrastructure in communities to make walking easier,” he said, so we can make sure, “everyone in America has a good shot at being healthy.”
Former Deputy Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ron Sims declared, “If you have parks, playgrounds, community gardens, and wide sidewalks, you have good health outcomes. If you have walkable communities kids will do better in school…seniors will be healthier.” That won hearty cheers from more than 500 Summit participants from 44 states and Canada. Workshops throughout the conference detailed how a diverse range of communities had made walking easier for their residents.
The 2017 Walking Summit—to be held in St. Paul, Minnesota—celebrates the Power of Walking. “The power of walking is becoming more clear all the time,” declares Kate Kraft of America Walks. “Community connections, social equity, a sense of well-being, business opportunities, affordable housing, more choices for kids and older people, a cleaner environment—these are some of the benefits of walkable places.”
Power is a word that almost no one would have paired with walking in 2012. While walking (or rolling in wheelchairs or motor carts) is central to almost everyone’s life, it got almost no attention until the walking movement appeared.
Kraft credits Kaiser Permanente for a catalytic role in boosting the movement. “You can’t underestimate the power of support that Kaiser offered to walking organizations.” And that investment set the stage for other groups to step up to promote walking. The Blue Cross Blue Shield Minnesota Center for Prevention joined Kaiser Permanente as featured sponsor of the 2017 Summit, with support from more than 20 other organizations.
John Vu, Kaiser’s current Vice President for Strategy, Community Benefit, notes, “We did not want to be the sole sponsor of the movement. It was never about just one health care organization. We wanted business to care about walking. Realtors. Education Institutions, Public officials. Foundations. Everyone.”