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Editorial: Walking your way to a healthier lifestyle

A stronger heart, a reduction in other health risks and a positive mental outlook. Who wouldn’t want that?  These things can all be achieved by one simple, cheap thing: walking.  U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy is calling for the promotion of health through walking and walkable communities. That is getting easier and easier to do in lakes country with the growing number of trails.  Murthy’s announcement articulates the health benefits of walking while also addressing the fact that many communities lack safe and convenient places for individuals to walk or roll wheelchairs.  

The Surgeon General called on community planners and local leaders to create more areas for walking and wheelchair rolling and to prioritize the development of safe routes for children to get to and from schools.  We all know how much of an asset the Heartland Trail is to the communities of Park Rapids, Dorset, Nevis and stretching beyond. Communities across the region are improving walking trails and other exercise-friendly areas. This is a growing trend. People want to walk and they want the accessibility to safe walking routes.  

Minnesota as a whole is taking action on Murthy’s call. The Minnesota departments of transportation and health recently entered an interagency agreement to promote health and are working on the state’s first statewide pedestrian plan.  “The Surgeon General’s call to action about walking and walkable communities affirms the importance of developing an accessible walking environment,” said MnDOT Commissioner Charlie Zelle. “We look forward to creating the first pedestrian plan in the state that will identify ways we can make communities more safe and convenient to walk and roll.”  MnDOT and MDH are gathering input from the public to help establish the vision, goals and recommendations for the pedestrian system plan. The plan will help develop new projects, policies and programs; a draft plan is expected in 2016.  With the help of these state departments – along with others like PartnerSHIP 4 Health – Minnesotans should have no excuse not to get out there and walk.  

The American Heart Association is just one of the many organizations to promote the benefits of walking. They say walking is the simplest positive change you can make to improve your heart health.  According to AHA, research has shown that the benefits of walking and moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day can help reduce risk of coronary heart disease; improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels; improve blood lipid profile; maintain body weight and lower the risk of obesity; enhance mental wellbeing; reduce the risk of osteoporosis; reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer; and reduce the risk of non-insulin dependent (type 2) diabetes.  Walking is not only the simplest way to help improve your health, it is also the cheapest. No exercise equipment or gym membership is required.  

More information about the Minnesota project is available at www.minnesotago.org/walks.  This weekend or week when you get a few minutes, slip on some trainers and get out for a walk. And for an added bonus, it’s the perfect season to enjoy the crisp, fresh air and take in the changing leaf colors.  Minnesota DNR officials are predicting a spectacular fall color season in the area which should provide countless opportunities for walking and viewing in places like Itasca State Park and throughout the lakes region.  Enjoy the view.

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