More of Us Are Walking, but We’re Still Not Getting Enough Exercise

Walking is cheap, easy and accessible and has numerous health benefits, the CDC says.

More people are walking in the U.S., the CDC says, doing the activity for fun, exercise or to get places. (Photo: Jim Cummins/Getty Images)

Aug 8, 2012
Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal and got in a boxing ring.

Americans may be walking more, but we're still not meeting weekly fitness recommendations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

A recent Vital Signs report from the agency found that the percentage of people who said they had walked recently for at least ten minutes or more went from 56 percent in 2005 to 62 percent in 2010, representing an increase of about 15 million people.

Overall, the CDC says 145 million people in the U.S. now walk as part of an active lifestyle, and more than six out of ten people walk for fun, to get places, to relax, or to exercise.

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But Americans are still falling short when it comes to getting the suggested 150 minutes a week of aerobic exercise. Less than half of us get that amount, the CDC says, with women and older people less likely than others to reach the goal.

“Walking is a great first step,” said CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden in a press briefing, “and walking for just ten minutes a week is a great way to get started in meeting your two and a half hours a week of physical activity.”

Frieden called physical activity a “wonder drug” and praised walking for its accessibility, low cost, and user-friendliness. He added that taking a brisk walk—one that’s “brisk enough for you to get a little bit winded, is a great way to get physical activity.”

That breathlessness indicates a moderate to vigorous level of exercise, enough to gain cardiovascular benefits such as reducing blood pressure and increasing circulation.

Numerous studies point out the advantages of maintaining a regular walking habit. A 2007 study in the American Journal of Cardiology found that taking a brisk half-hour a walk six days a week reduced the risk of metabolic syndrome, a collection of risk factors that up the chances of developing Type 2 diabetes, stroke and coronary artery disease.

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Walking can benefit mental health as well. A 2010 study in the journal Neurology found that among older adults, walking several miles a week was linked with less brain shrinkage and fewer cognitive problems.

Do you walk for exercise? Tell us about it in the comments.

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