Just Walk It Off: Transportation Choices and Personal Health

Kate MoeningIt’s everywhere in the news – American’s overweight and obesity rates in this generation have soared. Two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, and September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, which should raise alarm simply because there is a MONTH devoted to it. The effects on personal health are staggering: more than 30 illnesses are related to obesity, and the next generation may live shorter lives because of it.

Depressing? Sure. Solutions? Well… it may seem just too easy, but walking – yes, walking – is one of the best ways to improve health for young and old.

USA Weekend’s cover story on September 21-23 was “Step it Up: How 10 Minutes of Walking Can Change your Life”, a testament to the influence walking can have to restore and maintain good health. By walking, you not only improve your health, but reduce air pollution and traffic congestion. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) preliminary data shows physical activity may improve academic performance and alertness in youth.

Walking is an easy and inexpensive way to get healthy and get somewhere, as long as it’s safe and accessible. Transportation officials are recognizing their role in improving public health: at the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana (OKI) Regional Planning Conference in Columbus in September, more than 20 percent of the presentations were related to public health, transportation and connectivity issues and projects. Complete Streets policies and/or guidelines have been adopted in Columbus, Cleveland and Dayton by the area metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to plan access for pedestrian, cyclist and transit commuters alongside motor vehicles. October is Walk and Bike to School Month, and a running total of participating schools is documented on the International Walk to School Day website.

While there is uncertainty and worry about the funding cuts and program changes affecting all pedestrian and bicycling funding in MAP-21, the new federal transportation bill is going into effect October 1. We need to remember that walking and bicycling are important options for personal health, and we should fight to expand opportunities for Ohioans. 

Transportation options and public health are intertwined; giving people the option to safely commute to and from school, work, shopping and entertainment is essential to better personal health and sustainable communities. Implementing Complete Streets policies, retaining and expanding Safe Routes to Schools programs and committing funding to bike/ped projects will give Ohioans safer, healthier choices.

If you are interested in knowing more, helping out or creating change in your Ohio community, contact Kate Moening with the Safe Routes Partnership at kate@saferoutespartnership.org, and follow the Ohio network on Facebook.