More Americans Report Walking for Fun or Transportation, But Disparities Remain

New data suggest that more Americans report walking for leisure, transportation, or exercise in the past week, although these increases were not uniform across all sociodemographic groups.

New data suggest that more Americans report walking for leisure, transportation, or exercise in the past week, although these increases were not uniform across all sociodemographic groups.

Walking has been identified as an easy and cost-free way to boost physical activity, and the Surgeon General’s 2015 “Step It Up!” campaign called for promoting walking and the development of walkable communities across the nation. The CDC recently conducted an analysis of National Health Interview Survey responses from 2005, 2010, and 2015 to assess trends in the prevalence of walking. Findings were published in this week's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Respondents were asked whether they had spent at least a 10-minute period walking for transportation (walking to get someplace) or leisure (for fun, relaxation, exercise, or walking the dog) in the past 7 days. The survey also collected demographic data and asked about health status, including whether respondents met the aerobic physical activity guidelines set by HHS.

In 2015, the rate of walking among women was 65.1%; it was lower among men, at 62.8%. Women were less likely to walk if they were older than 65, black, or lived in the South. Men were less likely to walk if they were black or Hispanic, and more likely if they lived in the West. Among all respondents, rates of walking were lower among those with a high school education or less, who were obese, who needed assistance with walking, or who did not meet physical activity guidelines.

Rates of walking had increased steadily among women from 2005 to 2015 by nearly 8 percentage points. Among men, the prevalence increased during this time but mainly between 2005 and 2010, as walking rates increased by only 1 percentage point from 2010 to 2015.

The study authors noted that walking could represent “a potential opportunity for addressing the gender difference in overall physical activity,” as women are less likely to meet general activity guidelines but apparently more likely to go for a walk. They recommended that communities seeking to improve public health could initiate walking programs suitable for the preferences and abilities of their residents.

In particular, they noted that additional efforts are needed to reduce the disparities in walking among certain subgroups. Improving safety and walkability in neighborhoods of low socioeconomic status would be crucial to encourage walking in these communities.

“By implementing community and street scale design strategies that encourage pedestrian activity and by supporting walking programs where persons spend their time, communities can improve walkability and make walking a safer and easier option for increasing physical activity,” they concluded.