Who could have thought that walking would be part of your organization’s
strategic plan? The fact is it may be the answer to our nation’s epidemic
of obesity and related conditions — as well as the single most effective,
cost-efficient intervention you can offer your employees, members, clients,
or patients. The growing body of research documented here reveals
significant benefits for individuals and employers, health plans, public
health agencies, nonprofit institutions, and other organizations that
support ongoing walking programs.
Regular fitness walking requires only a modest investment, yet it can lead to
considerable bottom-line savings from reduced health insurance costs and
Staying active is great for physical and mental health. It’s a critical component,
along with a healthy diet, of any program for long-lasting weight management.
Fitness walking also is easy for most individuals to take up and continue; it’s
more accessible in today’s busy lives than swimming, bicycling, or many other
Walking programs can:
l Aid in long-lasting weight management
l Be effective with only a modest investment
l Enhance energy and reduce stress
l Increase employee productivity
l Lower disease risk
l Promote physical and mental health
l Support better sleep
l Target all groups.
Walking... the single most effective,
cost-efficient intervention you can offer.
The Health and Economic Impactv2.0
The High Costs of Inactivity
Inactivity costs $670-$1125/person annually.1
If the more than
88 million inactive Americans over age 15 were to increase
regular moderate physical activity, annual healthcare costs
might be reduced by as much as $76.6 billion.2
Inactivity is closely linked to obesity — in fact, a sustained
reduction of just 10% in body weight can lead to substantial
health and economic benefits.3,4
Conversely, consider these
specific costs associated with remaining inactive and obese:
l Obesity costs employers more than $12 billion each year
in higher healthcare utilization/benefit claims, lower
productivity, and increased absenteeism5
l About 9.1% of the nation’s total annual medical
expenditures are attributable to overweight and obesity6
l Annual healthcare costs are higher among obese
individuals than others, including:
− 36% higher inpatient and outpatient costs
− 45% more inpatient days
− 77% higher medication costs
− 48% more expenditures over $5000.7
Obesity’s Rise and
Its Impact on Health
The number of overweight Americans is soaring. In fact,
the percent of obese US adults doubled in 1980 to 2000 —
from 15% to 31%. Now, over 72 million, or 34% of adults,
, with nearly 2 in 3 adults (64%) being either
overweight or obese.8
The increase is linked to a wide
range of costly health problems due to a far higher risk
of these conditions:
l Breast, endometrium, prostate, and colon cancers
l Heart disease
l High blood pressure
l Musculoskeletal ailments
l Poor female reproductive health
l Sleep apnea
l Stroke.4, 10
In fact, obese individuals have been shown to suffer 30%-
50% more chronic medical problems than those who smoke
or drink heavily. In addition, the effect of being obese on the
number of chronic conditions is similar to aging 20 years.11
Yet people still aren’t moving. In 2005, 40% of US adults
did not participate in any physical activity during their leisure
and only 15% met the recommended 30 minutes a day
of brisk walking 5 times a week.13
Sedentary lifestyles are on
the rise. The number of adults who spent most of their day
sitting jumped from 36.8% in 2000 to almost 40% in 2005, and
those who were never active increased from 9.4% to 10.3% in
the same period.12
Obesity costs US employers over
$12 billion each year.5
Even a 10% reduction in body weight can lead to
substantial health and economic benefits. 3, 4
Walking: The Health and Economic Impact • 2
1. Has a clear, positive impact on health
Physicians often prescribe walking as an effective, doable way to help
prevent or delay the progression of several chronic diseases including
high blood pressure, heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and arthritis.
(See Health Benefits of Walking on page 4 for details.)
2. Is an inexpensive program to implement
No dedicated facilities are needed, and the cost is next to nothing to post
walking trail maps around or through a facility or neighborhood or highlight
neighborhood routes on websites like MapWalk™ (www.MapWalk.com).
A walking competition between groups nearly promotes itself.
3. Encourages high participation among all ages
l Walking is the only exercise where participation rates don’t decrease as
individuals reach middle age and older. One national survey found that
compared with any other group, men 65 and older had the highest percent
of regular walkers — 39.4%.14
l It’s the most popular physical activity in America. More than 56 million people
walk for fitness at least 100 days a year.15
l Walking is inexpensive and easy. All a person needs is a pair of comfortable,
l It comes naturally and can be done in connection with other daily activities —
for example: walking to work, circling the mall or grocery aisles, walking
the dog, or pacing while on the phone.
l Walking is a low impact, safe form of exercise — even for those who are
obese or have arthritis.
4. Becomes a stepping-stone to other forms of exercise
It carries particular appeal for people who are new to or self-conscious about
exercise. Walking can also differ in intensity by varying workouts with stairs,
hills, or Nordic walking.
5. Burns about the same number of calories/mile as running
Walking 1 mile briskly in 12 minutes burns about as many calories as jogging
the same distance in 8.5 minutes.17
A study among healthy women at the
Washington University School of Medicine shows that when going at the same
pace, walking very briskly will burn at least as many calories as jogging.18
Walking is the most popular physical
activity in America.
Walking offers distinct advantages for those who do it
and the organizations that promote it — walking:
Health Benefits of Walking
Examples of health-related findings specifically associated with walking follow.
Decreases Heart Disease Risk
Compared with women who engaged in no physical activity, women who walked as little as 1 hour a week —
even at a gentle pace — had only about half the risk of heart disease, according to a study of 39,372 health
professionals 45 and older. Women doing more vigorous exercise had an even lower risk.19
Helps Prevent Weight Gain
A study of inactive, overweight men and women ages 40-65 showed 30 minutes a day of walking helped
them lose weight, decrease their waist size, and increase their lean body mass — even with no special
Walking reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and heart disease.
Walking: The Health and Economic Impact • 4
Lowers Overall Mortality
Men ages 61-81 who walked more than 1 mile a day had 1/3 fewer deaths in a 12-year
follow-up period compared with men who didn’t. The beneficial effects were evident
even after taking into account other activities and risk factors.21
A study of male Harvard
graduates revealed those who burned 2000 or more calories a week by walking lived 1-2
years longer than men who burned under 500 calories a week through exercise.22
Maintains a Healthy BMI
A University of Tennessee study found women who
accumulated 10,000 steps or more each day had lower body
Protects Against Heart Attack and Stroke
An 8-year study of 72,000 female nurses ages 40-65 found
women who walked 3 or more hours a week had a 40% lower
risk of heart attack and stroke than women who didn’t walk.
Brisker walking produced greater benefits.24
Reduces Risk of Diabetes
A study of 2900 adults with diabetes indicated those who
walked at least 2 hours a week had a 39% lower risk of death
from any cause than adults who didn’t walk at all. People who
walked more — at least 3 hours a week — had a 54% lower
risk of death from any cause.25
Another study found walking
30 minutes a day nearly twice as effective as the prescription
drug metformin in preventing diabetes.26
Other Important Advantages
Further research shows additional advantages of physical activity. Although these
other studies looked at a variety of exercise forms, their findings can be applied
Employee productivity increases with physical activity. Findings include:
l Better concentration27
l Enhanced memory and learning28
l Improved ability to make complex decisions27
l Increased physical stamina.29, 30
Regular exercise aids in managing chronic illnesses and related risk factors:
l Controls weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure; reduces the need
for blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol medications29, 30, 31, 32
l Contributes to a healthy pregnancy and delivery34, 35, 36, 37
l Improves immune system function38
l Lengthens lifespan13
l Lowers the risk of obesity-related illnesses — including sleep apnea
l Minimizes the effects of diabetes, arthritis, and osteoporosis28, 39
l Prevents constipation40
l Reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, breast cancer, colon
cancer, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, impotence, blood clots,
and gallstones28, 30, 41, 42, 43
l Relieves back pain.32
Promotes an overall sense of wellness by helping people to:
l Control appetite and increase the body’s metabolism30, 44
l Improve mood and well-being28, 30
l Maintain healthy muscles, bones, and joints28, 30
l Reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety28
l Relax, feel more energetic, and control stress30, 45
l Sleep better.46, 47
l Physical inactivity contributes to obesity, negatively affecting
employee health and resulting in soaring healthcare costs and
l Employer-sponsored walking programs will result in reduced health
risks, improved productivity, and better quality of life for employees.
l Walking programs may be the jumpstart that employees need; it’s
simple, straightforward, and less demanding on the body than many
Where to Go
Acknowledging these findings,
Health Enhancement Systems has developed
Walktober, a program to implement during
October, National Walking Month — the
ideal time for a walking campaign. The
temperatures are moderate and colors are
spectacular, vacations are over and the
holidays haven’t arrived. Making the most of
this great season, Walktober is a month-long
walking campaign designed to:
l Guide participants through the benefits
l Help them incorporate walking into their
l Dramatically boost the amount
l Inspire everyone to make walking a
priority — in October and beyond.
There is every reason for all
organizations to promote walking.
Learn more at www.Walktober.com
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Walking: The Health and Economic Impact • 6