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Surgeon General: Make walking a national health priority

The U.S. Surgeon General is launching a campaign to get Americans to walk more, an easy step to improve fitness and health
Walk your way to better health 01:11

The U.S. Surgeon General is calling on Americans to "step it up" -- that is, to do more walking. He says this easy and free activity could prevent serious health problems.

On Wednesday, Dr. Vivek Murthy launched the "Step It Up" campaign in Washington, D.C., a national effort to promote walking and wheelchair rolling. He calls it a powerful tool to prevent chronic health problems.

"The science tells us that 22 minutes of brisk walking or moderate physical activity can get you these health benefits of reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes," Murthy explained.

In his "Call to Action," the Surgeon General notes that half of American adults, or 117 million people, are living with a chronic disease such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. Chronic diseases are the leading causes of death in the United States.

"Increasing people's physical activity level will significantly reduce their risk of chronic disease and premature death and support positive mental health and healthy aging," the report says.

Despite the known health benefits of moderate exercise, government data shows that only half of U.S. adults and about a quarter of high school students reported getting the recommended amount of physical activity.

The Surgeon General also wants to make it easier for people to walk around their communities. His report urges government agencies, city planners and developers to design and maintain more pedestrian-friendly communities.

Currently about 30 percent of U.S. neighborhoods don't have sidewalks, especially in low income neighborhoods.

"In large part because they have less street lighting, fewer crosswalks, fewer traffic calming measures," said Carlos Monje, Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy at the Department of Transportation. "Safety is our number one priority and we are taking a number of steps."

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