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Why Don’t People Walk More?



Not Enough Time to Walk

People report lack of time as one challenge that prevents them from walking or doing other kinds of physical activity. Many people spend a significant amount of their day at work. In 2013, a U.S. worker aged 15 years or older worked an average of 7.6 hours on a workday. Over the last 50 years, the percentage of people who work in occupations that require physical activity has progressively decreased, making it difficult for adults to be physically active during work hours. Adults may struggle to meet the current guideline of at least 150 minutes of aerobic physical activity each week as they balance the competing demands of work, home, and caring for themselves and others. However, many adults have some flexibility with their leisure time and may be able to substitute walking for less active pursuits.

 

 

Children and adolescents also live busy lives that may make it challenging to meet the guideline of 60 minutes or more of physical activity a day. Schools, which could provide most young people with opportunities to be active, increasingly face competing priorities, as well as time and resource challenges. In 2012, only 58.9% of districts required that elementary schools provide students with the regularly scheduled recess. In 2013, only 48.0% of high school students went to physical education classes on at least 1 day during an average week. Outside of school hours, most children have leisure time. For example, young people aged 8–18 years spend an average of more than 4 hours a day watching television. Reducing television viewing and other forms of screen time may be one way to help young people add more physical activity to their lives.

 

 

Safety Concerns

Safety concerns can be a barrier to walking.  Pedestrian deaths and injuries are associated with vehicle-related factors, unsafe driver and pedestrian behaviors, and problematic physical environments. Vehicle-related factors (such as the speed and volume of traffic) and driver behaviors (such as distracted driving, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, speeding, and reckless and aggressive driving) all pose significant safety risks to pedestrians. Pedestrian behaviors associated with risk include the use of alcohol, distracted walking, crossing in the middle of a block, and crossing against a traffic light.

Physical environments—such as a lack of sidewalks and crosswalks, poor lighting, streets with high-speed traffic, and poorly timed crossing signals—also contribute to increased pedestrian risk. In 2012, more than 3 out of every 10 people aged 16 years or older reported that no sidewalks existed along any street in their neighborhood. Basic infrastructure elements—such as sidewalks, curb cuts, crosswalks, lighting, and crossings for the visually impaired—are particularly important for the safety of people with visual and mobility limitations, parents with young children in strollers, and older adults

 

 

Disability, Chronic Conditions, and Aging

 

Although many people with disabilities are able to be physically active, additional barriers exist that may limit their participation in some activities. These barriers include limited information about accessible facilities and programs, physical barriers in the environment, physical or emotional barriers to participating in fitness and recreational activities, and lack of training in accessibility and communication among fitness and recreation professionals.

Chronic conditions and age can also make it difficult for people to walk. For example, people with arthritis may find walking painful, and they may be uncertain about how to walk safely without worsening their arthritis. For people with asthma, heart disease, and respiratory diseases, symptoms may be exacerbated when walking outdoors because of air pollution. Older adults and those who are frail may be reluctant to walk because of concerns about falls and subsequent injury.

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About Walking and walkable communities

Being physically active is one of the most important steps that Americans of all ages can take to improve their health. But only half of adults and about a quarter of high school students get the amount of physical activity recommended in national guidelines. Step It Up! The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities aims to get Americans walking and wheelchair rolling for the physical activity needed to help prevent and reduce their risk of chronic diseases and premature death. And it supports positive mental health and healthy aging as well.

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