Why Biking & Walking Matter - Facing the Sedentary Disease Pandemic

From left: Melissa Balmer (Women on Bikes SoCal Editor/Director), Luciano Gonzales (Bikeable Communitis Board Member) and Kerri Zane (Women on Bikes SoCal Health by Bike columnist) - three members of the Local Host Committee fro Pro Walk/Pro Bike: 2012 Conference. Image: Allan Crawford.

It has been one busy, intense, fun and inspiring week. Over 850 people came to Long Beach for the Pro Walk/Pro Bike: Pro Place 2012 Conference, and 250 came for a "sold out" first national "Women's Bicycling Summit," as people from around North American gathered to both share and learn about the best tactics, skills and approaches for growing the biking, walking and placemaking movements in their own cities, towns and communities.

The need for such conferences and calls to action couldn't be more serious or clear. We are facing a pandemic of sedentary diseases, not only here in the U.S., but throughout the world. Yet there are definitely lights at the end of the tunnel - and those lights are very much the types of ideas, infrastructure, initiatives and programs that were shared and taught at the conference and summit.

On July 18, 2012 in an article on Time.com by medical writer Alice Parks titled "Lack of Exercise as Deadly as Smoking" Parks shares insights from a recent series of related papers and studies published in The Lancet medical journal that illustrates exactly what is going on to cause the medical field such alarm. Further Parks shares from the reports that "...if physical inactivity could be reduced by just 10%, it could avert some 533,000 deaths a year; if reduced by 25%, 1.3 million deaths could be prevented."

The article goes on to note that a key reason to our inactivity is that those of us in wealthier (and thus more sedentary) societies is that we simply rely too much on the modern convenience of the car to get around even for relatively short trips. According to "Bicycling and Walking in the United States: 2012 Benchmarking Report" by the Alliance for Biking and Walking 40% of our car trips are under two miles.

In order to turn back the tide of devastation of these diseases (not only heart disease, diabetes and obesity but now both breast cancer and colon cancer are being linked as "sedentary diseases" as well) we need to educate, illustrate and motivate our friends, families, neighbors, communities and cities to understand that biking and walking are two of our best tools. Better nutrition is a key component but it's not enough, eating less is not enough, we need to get active on a regular and ongoing basis and for that to happen we need the activity to be easily worked into our every day life. Only biking and walking fit that bill. Only biking and walking allow us to continue to carry on with our daily life, incorporating the running of errands and getting to work and/or meetings while we're getting our daily does of active living.

So here's where I feel the need to get a bit personal and share a little about myself and my two friends in the image with me above. We are not just talking the talk, we're walking the walk, and riding the bike as it were. I have lived car free for over five years now and can do so because I work from home and my City (Long Beach) has an excellent mass transit system. But I find that more and more I rely on my bike to get where I want to go. It's so much faster than walking - and frankly it's easier. I share this because I have struggled with chronic fatigue and pain issues so I want others to know that a bike is a strength magnifier. I don't think this point is made enough.

Luciano Gonzeles now lives a mostly car free life. He is on his second tank of gas for this year. An avid road cyclist, as he moved into bicycle advocacy over the past few years he decided to try and experiment and see how it would be to get around mostly by bike, and I'm happy to share that he's doing marvelously well.

Kerri Zane is our resident walking expert and over the past several years has created a series of local Long Beach walks that incorporate building muscle strength as well as cardiovascular fitness in her program. Kerri not only teaches these walking workshops but uses them on an almost daily basis herself to keep her wonderfully fit.

All three of us are over 45.  We are examples of how it can be done, and together we are working on programs to share with our community to educate, inspire and engage others to do the same. Our first two local programs coming out this November and December are the "Know Your Neighborhood" bicycle tours and the "Street Savvy" hands-on adult bicycle safety training program.

The Time.com article points out that while the deadly effects of inactivity are well known, programs that address, education and encourage people to change their behavior are showing promising results they are still broadly (world-wide) underfunded and undervalued.

Our call to action is very clear. In the words of our very elegant first lady "let's move" and motivate others to do the same.

Do you have a biking and/or walking program in your community or city you'd like us to know about? I'd love to hear! Send me a note at wobsocal@gmail.com.