Americans View Walking as Good for Health But Many Aren’t Walking Enough to Realize Health Benefits

Time, a lack of walkable communities, and neighborhood barriers such as speeding cars and distracted drivers appear to be deterrents

Americans know that walking is good for their overall health, but many are not walking enough to meet recommended guidelines for health benefits, according to a recent survey conducted by GfK Research.

Nationwide, 94 percent of those surveyed said they view walking as good for their health and 79 percent acknowledge they should walk more. At least nine in 10 respondents agreed that walking is a good way to lose weight, maintain a healthy weight, and can help prevent heart disease. In addition, 73 percent said they believe their children should walk more.

They also view walking as a good way to reduce stress and combat depression. More than eight in 10 Americans said walking can reduce feelings of depression and 87 percent said walking helps reduce anxiety.

The survey revealed that, while Americans are aware of the health benefits of walking, they aren’t necessarily walking more. Overall, the country is split in the amount they walk compared to five years ago. According to the survey, 30 percent of Americans said they walk more than they did five years ago, 35 percent are walking less, and 32 percent are walking about the same amount. One third of those surveyed said they don’t walk for 10 minutes at a time over the course of a week. In addition, 31 percent of those who walk do so for less than 150 minutes per week, which is the minimal threshold for physical activity established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

These are the findings from a survey conducted by GfK on behalf of Kaiser Permanente from Aug. 5 to 13, 2013. Conducted in English and Spanish among 1,224 adults nationwide, the survey sought to take the public’s pulse on walking and the walkability of neighborhoods and communities. The survey results were presented today at the 2013 Walking Summit in Washington D.C., an event bringing together walking advocates, experts, and leaders from nonprofit, civic, and business sectors to build momentum for a walking movement and advance the mission and vision of Every Body Walk!

“These survey results show that walkable environments are key to encouraging people to walk more,” said Raymond J. Baxter, PhD, Kaiser Permanente’s senior vice president for Community Benefit, Research, and Health Policy. “The results also reveal the tremendous opportunity we have to build a broad walking movement. By doing so, we will improve the country’s overall health and also forge a deeper connection to the communities where we live, work, learn, and play.”

Survey respondents don’t necessarily view the CDC’s guidelines as difficult to meet. Half said it would not be difficult to meet the CDC’s guidelines of walking 150 minutes per week. Nearly six in 10 respondents also said they would walk more if their doctor told them to.

“The survey findings confirm that the public is aware of the health benefits of walking,” said Christopher Fleury, vice president at GfK Custom Research. “The key, then, is to motivate people to fit more walking into their busy lives.”

When asked why they don’t walk more, those surveyed cited lack of time and energy. Not living in communities where they can walk to services, shops, school, and work is also a deterrent. Four in 10 describe their neighborhood as “not very” or “not at all walkable.”

As part of a commitment to the total health and well-being of children and communities, Kaiser Permanente is engaged in a wide array of clinical and community-based efforts to promote walking. Walking a minimum of 30 minutes a day, five days a week, can help address chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and depression that contribute to the escalating cost of healthcare. Walking is a simple, easy activity that most anyone can do. That’s why Kaiser Permanente supports Every Body Walk!, a campaign and national collaborative to encourage walking in America. In addition, exercise is now a “vital sign” at Kaiser Permanente. While they have their weight, height, and blood pressure measured before a doctor visit, patients are asked how often and for how long they exercise.

Additional details of the survey findings include:

Walking and children
Parents recognize their children should walk more, but also that few children are walking or biking to school. In fact, only eight percent of school-age children who live within a one-mile radius of their schools walk to school and even fewer (2 percent) ride a bicycle to school.

Pedestrian Safety
According to the survey, the biggest neighborhood barriers to walking include a lack of sidewalks, drivers who speed, and drivers who talk on their phones or text. Crime ranks 8th overall out of 15 items, as a neighborhood barrier to walking, but it ranks 5th among both African Americans and Hispanic respondents compared to 12th among white respondents.

Differences across income groups and minority groups 
Household income is strongly related to respondents’ walking attitudes and behaviors. Respondents from lower-income households reported poorer health and greater incidence of diseases and conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and obesity. A greater percentage (43 percent) of those who reported household income of less than $40,000 a year said their walking has decreased “somewhat” or “a lot” compared to five years ago. Of those who earn $85,000 or more, 28 percent said their walking has decreased over that time period. Reasons lower-income respondents gave for not walking included: lack of energy, no one to walk with, and difficulty of walking.

Minorities—particularly those of Hispanic origin—are far more likely to agree with the statement “I should probably walk more.” Fully 44 percent of Hispanics “agree strongly” with this statement.

The importance of neighborhood walkability
While six in 10 Americans describe their neighborhood as “walkable,” a majority of Americans do not choose their neighborhood based on its perceived walkability. However, individuals who live in more walkable neighborhoods (with places where it is convenient to walk to services, shopping, schools and jobs) do, in fact, walk more.