The Surgeon General of the United States believes Americans can “take back their health” in just 22 minutes a day. Dr. Vivek Murphy is encouraging people of all ages to be more physically active by engaging in a daily walking plan. Warning that one out of two adults is now living with a chronic disease such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes (CDC Preventing Chronic Disease), he recently appeared on NPR’s Here and Now radio show, to announce his new campaign: Step It Up! The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities (www.surgeongeneral.gov).
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (USDHHS guidelines) recommend adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination, each week. Children and adolescents should be active for at least 60 minutes every day. Currently only half of all adults in the U.S. are exercising at levels that are consistent with these guidelines. Sadly, only 27% of high school students are engaging in the minimum guidelines established for their age (CDC Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance).
Dr. Murphy is calling on:
Individuals to embrace walking and walkability by making it a national priority.
Communities to become more walkable by making them safe and accessible for walking and wheelchair rolling.
Work sites to encourage their workforce to become more physically active by offering access to on-site facilities; activity breaks; flexible schedules and walkable meetings as well as incentives and support programs to encourage movement.
America’s doctor suggests walking as the activity of choice because it does not require any special schedule, new skills, equipment or facilities. Additionally, most people can walk and people with disabilities are able to walk or move with assistive devices such as walkers, canes and wheelchairs. Walking also carries a lower risk of injury than many other forms of physical exercise.
It seems so simple, doesn’t it? Walk to your health in just 22 minutes a day. But, realistically, it is quite complicated. The benefits of exercise are well documented and widely accepted. Engaging in regular physical activity can reduce a person’s risk of numerous chronic illnesses from diabetes to depression. For those who have a chronic illness, physical activity can lessen the severity and progression of the condition. Regular exercise can help improve focus, increase feelings of well- being and improve effectiveness in jobs and relationships.
Then why don’t we do it?
Kudos to the Surgeon General for flexing some muscle at Corporate America to take some responsibility for the declining health of its workforce. The increasing demands on employee time, squeezing employees into cramped cubicles and providing little or no opportunities for movement have contributed greatly to our now accepted “culture of sitting.” The major shift to suburban design reduced neighborhoods to “public transportation deserts” with no sidewalks, forcing people to use cars exclusively for transportation.
Clearly, the human body was not designed to sit around all day. Television, the internet and smart phones now make it possible to run your entire life sitting in front of a device. We have become so accustomed to our sedentary “near virtual existence” that moving around now feels arduous.
Increasing opportunities to move in communities and workplaces by expanding access to safe walking venues, promoting walking meetings and workplace exercise programs can make a huge difference. However, the personal barriers we hold are still the greatest obstacles to lifestyle change:
People don’t believe what they read: Although most Americans accept the claim that exercise is necessary to maintain good health, do we actually believe this? Can 22 minutes really make such a significant difference? Yes!
Motivation: Ask yourself, “Is my health a priority”? Be honest. Although your answer may be yes, if you find that you tend to put off starting an exercise regimen or think you are too busy to take action, your health is probably not at the top of your list. Move health to the top of your list.
Effort: Making the transition from being sedentary to moving with consistency can feel onerous at first. You need to give yourself a few months to get used to routine exercise as a way of life. Start gradually and build up to your goal. After a few weeks you will feel so good, you will look forward to it.
Attitude: If you continue to view physical activity as an add-on or chore, you are likely to keep putting it off. Setting your intention to exercise because you have made a decision to improve the quality of your life puts it in a completely different light. Seize the opportunity to embrace your health and take it on as a challenge. The choice is yours. Take it.
So while the Surgeon General is correct in calling on Americans to invest a little time each day to “take back their health,” in reality it takes a lot more than 22 minutes. It requires desire, effort, tenacity and fortitude.
But the return is priceless.
If you are interested in taking the 22 minute challenge, try this:
Schedule an appointment with yourself to walk one time only. If you can walk for 22 minutes, great. If not, walk 5, 10 or 15 minutes; whatever you can handle.
If you decide after your walk that you would like to do it for a week, create a schedule and gradually build up to a daily walk.
Find a walking buddy or a establish a walking group. The social enjoyment will help to keep you engaged.
Invite your co-workers to participate in a team to create a proposal to increase opportunities for walking at your place of employment.
Are you feeling the call to join the 22 minute challenge? Share how it is going for you in the comment link below.