UWALK partnership promotes health benefits of walking

The UWALK partnership aims to help Canadians take a simple step in improving their health.

(Edmonton) Remember when 2013 was going to be your year, when you sweated away a decade’s worth of caloric satiation and habitual avoidance of anything resembling a lunge?

Your trainer put you through the paces, you signed up for the “glory” of being called a big loser and made kale growers work overtime thanks to your juicing exploits. And then came the pain. And the lethargy. And excuses.

Sometimes the best way to start raising your physical activity program is one step at a time—at least that’s the goal of UWALK, a three-year partnership of the University of Alberta and Alberta Health.

“We are trying to engage people and promote the most accessible aspect of physical activity, and that’s walking. It’s also an aspect of physical activity that for the most part we’ve engineered out of our lives,” says Kerry Mummery, dean of the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the U of A.

Inactivity a leading preventable cause of death

Mummery is the driving force behind UWALK. Operated by his faculty with provincial funding, the program is modelled on the 10,000 Steps initiative Mummery created 12 years ago while teaching in Australia.

By promoting walking, UWALK is not just trying to get Canadians to move their feet; the program is taking aim at one of the major preventable causes of death and disease in modern society—physical inactivity. Research shows that 85 per cent of adult Canadians do not reach Canada’s physical activity guidelines and spend 69 per cent of their waking hours sitting.

Walking alone might not be the most intense or sufficient physical activity, but Mummery notes the main reason New Year’s resolutions fail is that people take on too much, too quickly. Meeting the UWALK goal requires dedicating time for walking every day and making choices like walking to work, parking further from a store or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

“Ten thousand steps a day is a very challenging goal,” Mummery says, noting it’s roughly equivalent to walking for one hour and 40 minutes a day. “Most people who have never put a pedometer on will be surprised at how far from 10,000 steps they will be. For many, it’s closer to 2,000 to 3,000 steps a day—or 20 to 30 minutes of motion per day.”

Building partnership across Alberta

Since its launch in fall 2013, UWALK has developed partnerships with 86 libraries across the province where, for no cost, people can borrow pedometers to track their daily steps. Users can also follow their progress at UWALK.ca, including monthly totals, and even compete with friends. UWALK also works with Fitbit and the Moves mobile app for Android and iPhone users.

UWALK has also developed partnerships with primary care networks where physicians recommend the program and walking to improve their patients’ overall health. So far the partnership is running in Edmonton and Red Deer, with plans to expand elsewhere.

One of the initiative’s larger aims is to engage policy-makers about physical activity, including how to make cities, workplaces and shopping destinations more walkable—a goal that’s accomplished through health promotion and UWALK’s research program.

“It’s very important that the U of A be at the cutting edge of the promotion of this sort of initiative and evaluation. Our faculty in particular, and the university in general, works throughout Alberta at all levels to work with the communities that support and surround us,” says Mummery.

“Universities not only develop knowledge, we also translate that knowledge to the public. We would hope that tens of thousands of people get involved in the next few years.”