CDC Reports More Americans Are Walking, But Not Enough - Exercise Termed Wonder Drug

CDC Reports More Americans Are Walking - Exercise Termed Wonder DrugA new VitalSigns Report issued August 7 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) found that Sixty-two percent of adults reported walking at least once for 10 minutes or more in the previous week in 2010, compared to 56 percent in 2005. However, less than half (48 percent) of all adults get enough physical activity to improve their health, the Report found.

“The basic news today is that physical activity is the wonder drug, and more Americans are making a great first step in getting more physical activity,” Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told USA Today. “Walking is the easiest, most accessible way” to be more active, he said.

The new CDC VitalSigns Report is based on data collected in the 2005 and 2010 National Health Interview Surveys.

Physical Activity Guidelines for Health Benefits

“People who are physically active live longer and are at lower risk for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression and some cancers,” Dr. Frieden said in a news release about the new data issued on August 7 by the CDC.

In addition, “Physical activity helps with weight control,” the VitalSigns report points out.

The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, published by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, recommends that to derive these health benefits, adults should do at least 2 hours and 30 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, such as brisk walking (or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity – or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous activities – per week). This aerobic activity should be done for at least 10 minutes at a time, according to the Guidelines. (See, How Vigorously Should You Exercise? further below.)

In addition to the aerobic exercises, adults should do muscle-strengthening exercises at least twice per week, the Guidelines recommend.

Findings of the CDC’s New VitalSigns Report

“From 2005 to 2010, the proportion of U.S. adults who reported walking increased significantly by 6.3 percentage points, from 55.7% to 62.0%,” the data showed.

The CDC’s report notes that increases in walking were seen in both men and women, and in nearly all groups surveyed. “Among men, the increase was 7.4 percentage points, from 54.3% to 61.7%, and among women the increase was 5.2 percentage points, from 57.2% to 62.4%.”

For purposes of the study, walkers were defined as those who walked for at least one session of 10 minutes or more for transportation, fun or exercise.

However, while more people are walking at least a little, the average time that the walkers spent walking decreased significantly from approximately 15 minutes per day in 2005 to approximately 13 minutes per day in 2010, the data showed. Presumably the addition of more walkers walking short times may account for this reduction in average walking time.

The additional good news is that the increase in numbers of adults who report walking coincides with an increase in the number of adults who actually meet the recommendations of the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

“The prevalence of meeting the aerobic physical activity guideline increased significantly from 42.1% in 2005 to 48.0% in 2010,” according to the CDC’s new report.

And, walkers were significantly more likely to meet the aerobic physical activity guideline than non-walkers, the report found. “In 2010, 59.5% of adults who walked met the guideline compared with 29.5% of those who did not walk,” the report states.

This significant association between walking and meeting the aerobic physical activity guidelines applied to both men and women, and to persons of every characteristic examined in the study, including adults needing walking assistance.

Regionally, the report found that roughly 68 percent of people in the Western part of the U.S. walk, more than any other region in the country. “People living in the South had the largest increase in the percentage of people who walk, up by nearly 8 percentage points from about 49 percent in 2005 to 57 percent in 2010,” the report stated.

The report also found that more adults with arthritis or hypertension are walking, however, unfortunately there was no increase in walking among adults with type 2 diabetes.

Conclusions; Implications

“The results in this report show an association between recent walking and meeting the aerobic physical activity guideline and suggest promotion of walking might be an effective strategy to increase physical activity,” the CDC concludes.

“Because walking or moving with assistance is possible for most persons, does not require special skills or facilities, and can serve multiple purposes, it represents a way many U.S. residents can achieve a more physically active lifestyle, regardless of sex, race/ethnicity, age, or education level,” the report states.

Still, there is a long way to go. “Less than half of the adult population report getting enough aerobic physical activity for substantial health benefits, and nearly one third report being physically inactive,” the report observes.

“Improving physical activity generally and walking specifically requires support from many societal sectors. U.S. residents should have safe and accessible options for physical activity, regardless of age, education level or disability status,” the CDC recommends.

In conclusion, the CDC states:

“The findings in this analysis suggest that walking is an activity many adults can do. Achieving at least 150 minutes/week of moderate-intensity physical activity lowers the risk for a number of chronic diseases and can help maintain a healthy weight. Many U.S. residents are missing the opportunity to improve their health through regular physical activity. Modifying environments and policies to improve the spaces and increase the number of places for walking might facilitate continued increases in the percentage of U.S. residents who are physically active.”

“It is encouraging to see these increases in the number of adults who are now walking,” Joan M. Dorn, Ph.D., Branch Chief of the Physical Activity and Health Branch in CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, said in the CDC’s August 7 news release on the new report. “But there is still room for improvement,” she noted.

“People need more safe and convenient places to walk. People walk more where they feel protected from traffic and safe from crime. Communities can be designed or improved to make it easier for people to walk to the places they need and want to go,” Dr. Dorn said.

How Vigorously Should You Exercise?

In a recent HealthBeat Report, Harvard Medical School states:

“Whether you are healthy or have medical issues, moderate activity is safe for most people and does plenty to improve your health. If you’re in good shape, adding vigorous activities to your workouts cuts time spent exercising and is a boon to health. If you’re not fit, work up to vigorous activities slowly. Higher-intensity activities raise your chances for muscle or joint injury and very slightly increase the odds of developing a serious heart problem. This applies particularly to people who are unaccustomed to physical activity, who suddenly start exercising vigorously (although the overall risk of dying from heart disease is lower than if you did no exercise).”

As a guide to help you judge the intensity of your aerobic exercise — whether light, moderate, or vigorous — the Harvard Medical School published the following chart in its recent HealthBeat Report:

How hard are you working?
INTENSITY IT FEELS YOU ARE…
Light Easy
Breathing easily
Warming up, but not yet sweating
Able to talk—or even sing an aria, if you have the talent
Light to moderate You’re working, but not too hard
Breathing easily
Sweating lightly
Still finding it easy to talk or sing
Moderate You’re working
Breathing faster
Starting to sweat more
Able to talk, not able to sing
Moderate to vigorous You’re really working
Huffing and puffing
Sweating
Able to talk in short sentences, but concentrating more on exercise than conversation
Vigorous You’re working very hard, almost out of gas
Breathing hard
Sweating
Finding talking difficult

For additional information on this and other questions about starting a healthy exercise program, Harvard Medical School invites you to purchase the Special Health Report, Exercise, A Program You Can Live With from Harvard Medical School.

More Information

See related HelpingYouCare™ reports on:

Harvard Guide to Exercise – A Program You Can Live With

Wearing a Pedometer Can Help You Walk More, Study Finds

Physical Inactivity May Cause as Many Deaths as Smoking, New Study Calculates

Experts Advocate Dancing for Health

Strength Training & Walking Improve Brain & Memory, New Studies Find

For more information on exercise, diet and other lifestyle factors that promote wellness and prevent diseases, see the HelpingYouCare™ resource pages on Wellness/ Healthy Living for Seniors & Caregivers, including:

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