By Tanya Snyder
Walking can seem like a rather mundane thing to get organized about, until you realize that it’s a direct challenge to car-oriented transportation and it’s the best thing people can do for their health. Then walking is downright revolutionary.
Not only that, but it can be joyful. That was the message that the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin, brought to a gathering of walking advocates in Washington on Dec. 5. “We have to make being healthy joyful,” she said.
“One person’s joy might be to run a marathon,” she said. “Another person’s is just fit into an old pair of jeans. And another’s is just to sit up all day with their grandkids. We have to stop telling people what they can’t do or what they can’t eat. We have to tell them what they can do. They can go out for walks. They can go out with their friends.”
When Benjamin was nominated to her post, she was immediately barraged with questions about her own weight. Critics said it was inappropriate to have a full-figured person as the leading public health official in a country that struggles with a 36 percent obesity rate. But Dr. Benjamin’s message is, “If I can do it, anyone can do it.”
Benjamin recounted a tale of a friend of hers finding out she liked walking and inviting her to go on a walk — to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. She said she huffed and puffed her way back up the 4,000 feet of altitude change, but it was fun. “But you don’t have to have a national park,” she said. “You just have your street outside your house.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is going to produce a Surgeon General’s report that is “a call to action on walking.” That’ll be accompanied by a national campaign for walking. “We want to lend the voice of the Office of the Surgeon General to this particular physical activity,” she said. “It’s easy to do, anyone can do it and it’s fun.”
She told Streetsblog after her remarks that it will, realistically, take 18 months to launch the call to action.
Benjamin’s commitment to walking as an inclusive form of physical exercise dovetails nicely with first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, which also embraces biking and walking as a good way for young people to work physical activity into their day. And not only that: Dr. Benjamin ended her speech by thanking the walking advocates in the room for “implementing the Affordable Care Act’s prevention strategy.”