Walking is good medicine

Published 9:59 pm Tuesday, March 25, 2014

By Robbie Laughton

Most health professionals will tell you that being active is good for your body, mind and spirit; however, just having a busy lifestyle is not always a good thing. Things that add stress, tension and create an uneven work/life balance are not good for us and should be avoided.

Those words ring in my ears almost daily as I go about my routines. Everybody needs something they can do that calms the mind, exercises the body and lifts the spirit. I think I have found my lifesaver, and it’s walking.

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It’s nothing revolutionary, it’s not a new scientific development, it’s not the latest craze in exercise, nor is it the next wonder drug in medicine. But, I believe walking can be all of the above and more.

The benefits of walking are endless. Walking can lower your blood pressure, it can increase your lung capacity, it builds muscle, it helps control weight, it can reduce stress and it gives you more energy. On top of all that, it’s free, it can be done almost anywhere, it doesn’t take expensive equipment, and it works, whether you’re alone or with a group.

Former U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin said recently, “Prevention is the greatest opportunity in the health care field, and walking is the single most effective activity one can do to improve their health.”

Better health leads to more productivity, stronger bodies, stronger minds, lower health care costs and longer lives.

That’s essentially the message adopted in the Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community’s vision statement: “To have a healthy community where all people will be inspired and enabled to make healthy lifestyle choices, to use preventative health care, and to access resources to live in a safe and wholesome environment.”

As a former parks and recreation director, I decided years ago to take walking seriously and have held firm to that commitment. I park away from my destination to take more steps, I take stairs rather than escalators or elevators, and I walk to a co-worker’s office for conversation rather than use email or intercom. Simple steps add up during the day.

Speaking of adding up, I have worn a pedometer nearly every day since 2001 and track my steps methodically. My goal is 10,000 steps daily. I have worn out or broken more than a dozen pedometers and have accumulated more than 35 million steps. That equates to approximately 17,000 miles (more than halfway around the earth at the equator). Yes, my knees, ankles, feet and back often feel it, but it is worth it for better lifelong health.

Care to join me?

The Suffolk Partnership, in collaboration with the Obici Healthcare Foundation, through its Healthy People Healthy Suffolk Initiative, is promoting walking throughout Suffolk. We have volunteers who have joined a work group for citizen engagement, and they are creating a plan to get individuals, businesses, churches, schools, civic leagues and neighborhoods out walking.

We want to know if there are already individuals walking independently or together in groups. If so, fantastic; if not, we can help you get started. As part of the OHF’s partnership, they are offering small grants to get walking groups started.

Please contact us by phone at 539-1525 or email at hphs@suffolkpartnership.org and let us hear from you. Wouldn’t it be great to see people, of all ages, all over Suffolk, out walking and getting healthier? It really is the best medicine.

Robbie Laughton is executive director of the Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community. Email him at rlaughton@suffolkpartnership.org.