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Published on September 14, 2015

America’s top doctor says it’s time to ‘Step It Up’

America’s top doctor says it’s time to ‘Step It Up’

Take a hike! That’s the friendly advice of U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.

In announcing “Step It Up! The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities,” Dr. Murthy cited the health benefits of walking and urged people to make walking a priority.

“We know that an average of 22 minutes a day of physical activity – such as brisk walking – can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes,” said Dr. Murthy. “The key is to get started because even a small first effort can make a big difference in improving the personal health of an individual and the public health of the nation.”

The surgeon general’s message was welcomed by Cape Cod Hospital cardiologist Dr. Elissa Thompson.

“I was excited to see the surgeon general weighing in on this and making it a national issue,” she said. “Lack of fitness is one of the biggest public health issues we have. We have a generation growing up with limited physical education in schools, so it’s only going to get worse.

The nation needs a public mandate for exercise to combat an epidemic of obesity and diabetes, Dr. Thompson said. “Coronary disease is the No. 1 killer of Americans. Walking is the simplest way to mediate those risks. Walking lowers blood pressure, lowers glucose, lowers cholesterol and lowers weight.”

In addition, walking offers psychological benefits. “The endorphins released when we walk help keep us calm and focused,” said Dr. Thompson.

Experts recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity, such as walking at a brisk pace. But Dr. Murthy said that only about half of adults and a quarter of teens exercise that much.

And 150 minutes a week is the minimum standard, Dr. Thompson pointed out. “Walking is a free and simple way to exercise, but most people just don’t do it,” she said.

Dr. Thompson is the medical director of Healthy Parks, Healthy People, a partnership of Cape Cod National Seashore and Cape Cod Healthcare. The walking program promotes health and wellness for year-round and seasonal residents, as well as visitors to the Cape.

The 2015 Healthy Parks, Healthy People field guide outlines the many health benefits of walking and offers in-depth descriptions of five Cape Cod National Seashore trails, complete with maps, detailed descriptions and difficulty ratings.

In his announcement, the surgeon general added that communities around the country need to do more to make walking easier, by adding sidewalks and other walkways. “You don’t need a fancy gym membership or a special set of skills to walk,” Dr. Murthy said.

Fortunately, having a good place to walk is not an issue on Cape Cod.

“We’re fortunate on the Cape in that we have so many miles of beautiful and well-kept trails,” said Dr. Thompson. “The Cape Cod National Seashore is an invaluable resource.”

Dr. Thompson said one of her favorite spots to walk is near her home, on a section of the Cape Cod Rail Trail connecting Chatham and Harwich. She exercises for an hour a day and walks as many days as she can.

“It’s a great way to unwind,” she said.