Monday, September 24, 2012

Health - The Most Important Benefit?

When I started this blog about the Chester Valley Trail and its economic importance, I really did not anticipate that one of the most important aspects of a facility like the Trail would be the economics of health.  The more I have looked into it, the more I realize that trails like the Chester Valley Trail provide value to the community in health terms that rival and even surpass those of other, more commonly referenced, benefits. 
It is for this reason, therefore, that the next few editions of this blog about the Chester Valley Trail Funding Project will concentrate on health and how the Chester Valley Trail will relate to it and benefit Chester County.  The first edition, this one, will deal with walking the Trail rather than biking and how “A Step In the Right Direction”[1] will be of benefit to us all.
It is an important fact that, once a trail is in place within a community, the more it encourages those who might not ordinarily do an activity like walking or biking to do it.  The trail provides a safe, easy and focused place to start active recreation; it beckons the sedate person to use it and become active. 
So, what happens when this ordinarily sedate person uses the Trail to do something like walking?  The list of benefits will surprise you:
           ·          Lose weight – “You won’t find a better way to lose weight than walking”[2]
           ·          Prevent heart disease – Those who do not exercise are twice as likely to have coronary heart disease[3]
           ·          Decrease hypertension – Walking lowers blood pressure[4] and correlates with blood pressure improvement.[5]
           ·          Improve mental health – Walking releases endorphins which are natural tranquilizers and serve to reduce anxiety.[6]
           ·          Slow the aging process – An inactive lifestyle accelerates aging while those who exercise age less rapidly[7]
           ·          Prevent Osteoporosis – “ . . .walking help[s] reverse the negative effects of osteoporosis . . .”[8]
           ·          Prevent and control diabetes – Walking can help prevent diabetes and . . . protect against the degenerative effects of diabetes.[9]
           ·          Improve arthritis – Most people with arthritis can benefit from a regular exercise program.[10]
           ·          Relieve back pain -  Walking prevents and cures the most common kinds of muscular backache, and even some kinds[with] a disk problem[11]
           ·          Improves air quality – A real stretch you say?  Not so: walking can replace short-distance motor vehicle trips, which are the least fuel-efficient and generate the most pollution per mile traveled.[12]

I saved the best for last, though.  “Each time you go outside and walk . . . you will come home feeling better than you did when you left.  Your body will feel better. Your head will feel clearer, and your stress level will have decreased. . . . As you notice improvements in your body and state of mind, you may also want to start eating healthy foods . . . which will encourage you to continue your new healthy habits.”[13]

 Of all the benefits, economic or otherwise, it seems to me that the health benefits of having a vibrant, complete and, yes, healthy Chester Valley Trail are the most important.  More to come on the health benefits of the Chester Valley Trail in future posts; stay tuned.

[1] A Step In The Right Direction, The Health Benefits of Hiking and Trails by the American Hiking Society
[2] Walking for Health, Walking for a Healthy Heart, by the American Heart Association
[3] Edmund Burke, Ph.D., Benefits of Bicycling and Walking to Health (for FHWA), Washington, DC, 1992, p10
[4] Alfred A. Bove, Active Control of Hypertension, The Physician and Sports Medicine, Vol. 26, No. 4,, 1998
[5] Ibid
[6] Bricklin and Spilner, p. 84
[7] Ibid, p. 3
[8] A Step In The Right Direction, Ibid
[9] Bricklin and Spilner, p. 38
[10] Bricklin and Spilner, p. 8
[11] A Step In The Right Direction, Ibid
[12] Burke, p 4
[13] A Step In The Right Direction, Ibid