April 19, 2013
Op-Ed: Moving Step-By-Step With Earth Day— Getting Physical About the Environment
By Janet Walberg Rankin, Ph.D., FACSM
Dr. Rankin is currently the president of the American College of Sports Medicine and is a founder of The ActivEarth Network, which is a global multi-organizational initiative that will formally launch later this year. To learn more about the American College of Sports Medicine, please visit www.acsm.org.
Since 1970, April 22 has been recognized as Earth Day. Led by U. S. Senator Gaylord Nelson as a day to increase awareness about the environment and to encourage conservation efforts. In 2013, more than 500 million people in 175 countries will observe Earth Day. Throughout the years, Earth Day has played a key role in environmental awareness and action efforts.
This year, consider focusing on Earth Day through a new lens. Active Transportation – increased walking and bicycling for transportation— can not only help the environment but also the health of participants. Active Transportation fosters good environmental stewardship and also provides health benefits, strengthens communities and relationships, promotes economic development and resource conservation, and much more.
The benefits of an active, healthy lifestyle are exceptionally well-founded in scientific and public health research. For example, The World Health Organization has estimated that physical inactivity is responsible for 3.2 million annual deaths. Next Monday is an opportunity to help reverse that trend. Have you considered making physical activity a part of your daily commute to work or routine errands? Currently, Americans only walk or bike 31% of the time on one mile or less trips, and only 3.4% of commuters in the U.S. bike or walk to work.
Active transportation is not only good for you, but it can help reduce pollution and make the environment healthier, too. The U.S. consumes 20% of the world's energy each year, with only 4.5% of the world's population. Cars, especially used for even short hops, are one of the main culprits: the average American household carbon footprint is 22 metric tons per year; of this approximately 38% (one car households) to 55% (two car households) of total CO2 emissions are transportation related. The Sierra Club suggests that if American drivers made just one four mile round trip each week (that’s WEEK, not day) with bike instead of car, would save nearly two billion gallons of gas. To put that into perspective, at $4 per gallon, that saves $7.3 billion per year in the U.S., not to mention the benefits to our air quality and health.
On Tuesday, April 23, the day after Earth Day, the National Institutes of Health and the American College of Sports Medicine will stage a conference that focuses on the important interplay among active transportation and our communities and buildings. The conference will be streamed live on the web, and you connect at http://videocast.nih.gov. Later this year, the ActivEarth Network will be launched globally to urge greater world-wide action based on the convergence and connectivity of health, environment, and social and economic development.
Next Monday, and every day, I encourage you to consider the following ways to improve your health and the health of the planet:
•Walk to a meeting or shopping trip of one mile or less
•Use the stairs instead of using the elevator/escalator
•Cycle or walk to work
•Walk or cycle with your children to school
•Tour your community or block with family or friends.
This Earth Day, and all future ones, let’s be sure to make this time a moving experience.Your health, your planet, and your economy will thank you for it. Let's all move step-by-step with Earth Day….and every day.