TUESDAY, Aug. 7 (HealthDay News) -- Almost two-thirds of Americans now say they take regular walks, a significant jump upwards, a new study finds.
However, experts add that far too many people are still not getting enough exercise to improve their health.
According to 2010 data, almost 62 percent of American adults were taking at least one 10-minute walk per week, compared with 56 percent who did so in 2005, researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report.
That's good news, CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden said in a Tuesday afternoon press briefing. "Physical activity is the wonder drug," he said, and "more Americans are making a first step in getting more physical activity."
The uptick in walking rates means that "15 million more Americans were walking in 2010 compared to 2005," Frieden said.
Regular exercise is a proven health booster, and walking is a great way to get started, Frieden said. "You live longer, you have a lower risk of heart attack and stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a lower risk of diabetes and cancer, a lower risk of falls and depression, a lower risk of cognitive decline as you get older, and probably a lower risk of hip fracture and better sleep as well," he said.
However, despite the good news that more adults are taking walks, 48 percent of all adults still aren't getting enough exercise to make a helpful dent in their overall health, data from the U.S. National Health Interview Survey indicates.
According to the U.S. government's Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, people should be doing at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, which includes exercise such as brisk walking, and it should be done for at least 10 minutes at a time.
Walking rates varied widely depending on where people lived, according to the CDC report published online Aug. 7 in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Regular walkers are most frequently found in the West, where about 68 percent of people say they walk. On the other hand, Southerners showed the biggest rise in the number of people who walk, jumping from 49 percent in 2005 to 57 percent in 2010, the report found.
More people with conditions such as arthritis and high blood pressure are also walking, the CDC team said. There was, however, no increase in walking among people with type 2 diabetes, which is often linked to obesity.
To make it easier for people to take up walking, the CDC recommends:
One fitness expert called the increasing popularity of walking "great news."
"Hopefully, just knowing more people are walking will encourage others to join the fun," said Samantha Heller, an exercise physiologist and clinical nutrition coordinator at the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn.
"Walking is such a great way be active. It's free and you already know how to do it. All you need is a good pair of walking shoes and weather-appropriate clothing and off you go," she said.
And, she added, walking has been shown to help reduce abdominal fat, improve insulin sensitivity, strengthen muscles and bones, reduce anxiety and boost heart health. In addition, regular exercise, including walking, can make you physiologically younger, Heller said.
"Research suggests that walking can improve mental function, make your brain younger and helps reduce chromosomal damage associated with aging," Heller said.
"Start with five minutes out and five minutes back. In no time you can work up to a good 30- to 60-minute walk," Heller said. "You will be walking towards a younger, healthier you."
For more information on physical activity, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCES: Samantha Heller, M.S., R.D., exercise physiologist, clinical nutrition coordinator, Center for Cancer Care, Griffin Hospital, Derby, Conn.; Aug. 7, 2012, press conference with: Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Aug. 7, 2012, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, online
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