By Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer
In January 2011, Kaiser Permanente launched the “Every Body Walk!” public awareness campaign. Chairman and CEO George Halvorson kicked off the initiative in his weekly celebration letter to all employees and physicians on January 14, 2011:
“It is time to celebrate walking. There are very few things that we can do that have a more positive impact on our health and our lives than walking. . . Kaiser Permanente is on a new path, so to speak, to encourage everyone in America who can safely walk, to walk. The theme is — Every Body Walk!”
Walking a prescription for health
Bob Sallis, MD, family physician at Kaiser Permanente Fontana (Calif.) Medical Center and the national spokesperson for the campaign, described the goals for Every Body Walk:
“The aim of the campaign is to inform Americans about the tremendous health benefits of walking. Walking is an excellent form of exercise for everyone. For those with conditions like diabetes, asthma, heart disease and depression, a regular walking regimen has the added benefit of helping to manage these diseases.
“I’m a strong believer in the power of walking and that’s why I literally prescribe it to my patients as front-line medicine — often in place of medications.”
From a public health point of view, the campaign is important because it addresses the many people that don’t get what is commonly thought of as “regular exercise” – going to a gym, playing tennis, or riding a bicycle.
Every Body Walk! encourages a modest amount of activity, thus opening up a new path to healthy behavior for millions of people. The campaign provides news and resources on walking, health information, walking maps, help in finding walking groups, as well as a place to share stories about individual experiences with walking.
Research validates value of walking
Medical research shows that walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week, can prevent the onset of chronic diseases, or help manage them. The roots of this prescription can be found in a 1996 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Physical activity and health: A report of the Surgeon General.[i]
The research supports the common-sense and empowering notion that some exercise is better than none, and any approach to encourage activity will have positive health benefits:
“Emphasizing the amount rather than the intensity of physical activity offers more options for people to incorporate physical activity into their daily lives. Thus, a moderate amount of activity can be obtained in a 30-minute brisk walk, 30 minutes of lawn mowing or raking leaves, a 15-minute run, or 45 minutes of playing volleyball, and these activities can be varied from day to day . . . Through a modest increase in daily activity, most Americans can improve their health and quality of life.”
Recent studies confirm concept
Subsequent medical research amplified the benefits. A 2002 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that patients who ate a healthy diet and engaged in moderate physical activity for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, reduced their risk of getting Type 2 diabetes by 58 percent.[ii]
A 2010 prostate cancer study found: “A modest amount of vigorous activity such as biking, tennis, jogging, or swimming for less than three hours a week may substantially improve prostate cancer-specific survival.”[iii]
Recent research at Oregon State University’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences suggests the health benefits of small amounts of activity – even one- and two-minute increments that add up to 30 minutes per day – can be just as beneficial as longer bouts of physical exercise achieved by a trip to the gym.
The study, which involved a broad demographic of more than 6,000 American adults, shows that an active lifestyle approach, as opposed to structured exercise, may be just as effective in improving health, including the prevention of metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Lead author of the study, Paul Loprinzi, explains:
“We encourage people to seek out opportunities to be active when the choice is available. For example, rather than sitting while talking on the phone, use this opportunity to get in some activity by pacing around while talking.”[iv]
Garfield walks, jogs in desert
At Kaiser Permanente, innovation is usually framed in the context of deep previous experience. In the mid-1930s, founding physician Sidney R. Garfield, MD, was running a clinic in the Mojave Desert for the workers on the Colorado River Aqueduct project. Guess how the clinic staff stayed fit?
“When we were at the hospital (walking) is what the staff did all the time for keeping fit (and for) exercise, except we’d jog – yeah, we would run, but we’d wait until the sun went down, go out and jog and then would walk along. And about that time the rattlesnakes would come out, and then we’d really jog.”[v]
History is repeating itself, and we’re all the better for it.
See “Gift of Walking,” a short video featuring Kaiser Permanente Chairman and CEO George Halvorson.
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Reducing the incidence of type 2 diabetes with lifestyle intervention or metformin. New England Journal of Medicine has published a new article by Knowler WC, Barrett-Connor E, Fowler SE, et al entitled “Reduction in the incidence of type 2 diabetes with lifestyle intervention or metformin.” N Engl J Med 2002 Feb 7;346(6):393–403.