Americans are moving less and sitting more — in our cars, at our desks, and on the couch.
We’re more sedentary than our parents and grandparents ever were, and it’s wreaking havoc on our health: Obesity is epidemic, type 2 diabetes is a major health concern, and more than 100 million Americans have high blood pressure.
Marathon swimmer Diana Nyad wants to change that by getting us up — and walking.
Nyad, who in 2013 became an international sensation when she swam 110 miles from Havana, Cuba, to Key West, Fla., has created an organization called EverWalk with her longtime friend and trainer, Bonnie Stoll. Its mission is as audacious as Nyad’s long-ago swim at age 64:
“We are trying to develop a nation of 100 million walkers,” said Nyad, now 69.
Those who want to join the EverWalk movement need only pledge to walk three times a week. The walks can be solo, with friends, or with small EverWalk groups whose 9,000 active members are organized regionally via the EverWalk website.
Participants can also pay a fee to take part in EverWalk’s large, days-long mega treks like the one Nyad will lead from Philadelphia to Washington starting on Aug. 26. Dubbed “The Liberty Walk,” the 134-mile journey will take seven days and cover about 20 miles a day.
“We have people who have never done anything like this in their lives,” Nyad said. "Now they’re the athletes.”
Evidence-based research points to the social and health benefits of walking.
In two studies published last month in PLOS Medicine (a peer-reviewed open-access journal), adults age 45 to 75 who used a pedometer to measure the distance they walked wound up increasing their physical activity over time and decreasing their risk of strokes, heart attacks, and fractures. Another study in Science News found that people who walk in groups were more likely to keep up with the exercise.
The Liberty Walk is one of EverWalk’s “Epic” vacation-type walks. About 70 participants will perambulate past Philly’s historic sites before heading south through Delaware, Maryland, and then D.C. There will be cyclists to monitor participants’ safety, support vehicles monitoring their well-being, plus lunch and plenty of water.
Not all EverWalk events involve 20-mile days.
Nyad has partnered with United Healthcare to spread the word about her organization’s first-Saturday-of-the-month walks led by regional volunteer “ambassadors” (there are currently about 40 ambassadors nationwide). The Saturday walks can be of any distance but typically range from 1 to 10 miles.
Ambassador Victoria Price, 57, a motivational speaker and author based in Santa Fe, N.M., has worked with EverWalk for about three years. She organizes walks when she’s on the road for work and also helps new ambassadors with guidelines, communication, and general planning.
She has been moved by how often the walks yield deep, personal conversations between walkers.
“Sometimes what people share is so profound and real, all I can feel is privilege to be able to hear it,” she said.
Many participants appreciate the social benefits of EverWalk membership, said Nyad. After a day of Epic walking, for example, EverWalk members gather in the evening to talk about the day and discuss the experience of being close to nature and sharing personal stories with others.
“It’s one of the reasons people join us,” said Nyad.
Attorney Terry Shuch, 65, of Rockville, Md., decided to cut back on work hours to have more time to exercise. After reading about a 132-mile Epic EverWalk from Boston to Cape Elizabeth, Maine, she decided to sign up.
“The idea of doing the 20-mile-a-day walk was pretty daunting,” said Shuch. But she had enough time to prepare, followed the instructional manual developed by the group, and stuck with it. “The Epic walk is like the reward for all the training.”
Shuch found the experience so inspirational, she did a second one, from White Rock, British Columbia, in Canada, to Seattle. She is also signed up for The Liberty Walk.
Shuch said she gets a euphoric “walker’s high" on her treks. It was something she didn’t realize until she was well into her training.
“I am smiling at everybody I see,” Shuch said. “I am just really happy out there.”