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Conference, campus walk to showcase health benefits of walking

Melissa Mitchell, News Editor


walker in motion inside the UI Armory
Click photo to enlarge
UI File Photo
Many students and faculty and staff members walk regularly on the indoor track of the UI Armory. To gain more knowledge about the issues of walking and its health benefits, the UI and the American College of Sports Medicine are hosting a conference on the Urbana campus Oct. 13-15.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Hands down, walking is the easiest, most efficient and inexpensive form of physical activity known to promote human health, according to Weimo Zhu, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Yet a large proportion of the U.S. population does not walk regularly and lives a sedentary lifestyle, he said.

“The consequence of a sedentary lifestyle to the population’s health status and economic burden has been significant,” he said, citing a review of national surveys conducted between 1960 and 2002 that found an estimated 65 percent of the nation’s adults either were overweight or obese. “In 1996 alone,” he said, “it is estimated that about 4.19 million cardiovascular disease cases were associated with obesity, which led to about $22.17 billion in direct medical costs in that year.”

Zhu believes the first step toward eliminating obesity and escalating medical costs may be educating the public on the value of incorporating walking into their daily routines.

“Walk 10,000 steps – or 15,000 if you want to eat whatever you like – and health problems go away,” he said.

Though researchers have recently developed a better understanding of walking behavior and its health benefits, Zhu – the inventor of the term “kinesmetrics,” a discipline that develops and applies measurement theory, statistics and mathematical analysis to the field of kinesiology – said “many critical issues in walking and health remain unknown.”

To gain more knowledge about these issues, the U. of I. and the American College of Sports Medicine are hosting “Walking for Health: Measurement and Research Issues and Challenges," Oct. 13-15 on the Urbana campus.

The conference, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and American College of Sports Medicine, takes place at the Illini Union, 1401 W. Green St., Urbana.

Zhu, who is chair of the conference’s organizing and scientific committees, said the event has been organized to bring together researchers from all over the world – from a multitude of disciplines – to share their latest research findings on topics related to walking, health research and practice. Participants also will explore the latest technologies and methods for addressing measurement issues.

The walking conference is an extension of an aging and measurement conference organized at the U. of I. in 2003, and is part of a series of kinesmetrics symposia organized jointly by the university and the ACSM, and hosted every other year at the U. of I.

In addition to the usual academic dialogue and research presentations, conference organizers have planned a number of “legs-on” sessions, including morning Nordic walking activities, sponsored by LEKI, a manufacturer of ski, hiking and trekking poles. Organizers worked with the campus’s Culture of Wellness committee, which proposed the creation of an annual walk for health and formed a walking subcommittee to carry out those plans.

With funding and support from a number
of campus units – including the Office of the Chancellor – the subcommittee will host the campus’s first “Walk Toward Wellness” event, beginning at noon on Oct. 14 on the U. of I. Quadrangle. Chancellor Richard Herman and his wife, Susan, will serve as grand marshals for the walk, scheduled to start, rain or shine, at the Anniversary Plaza on the south side of the Illini Union. Registration begins at 11 a.m. The walk has been designated as an approved campus event, which means civil service employees may be granted releases from work to attend the event, for up to one hour without loss of pay.

Zhu said more than 40 national and international researchers in physical activity and health fields will speak at the conference on topics of interest not only to researchers, but to the public as well. The roster of participants, he said, is a virtual “Who’s Who of the physical activity and health research fields.”

Among them is Yashiro Hatano, known as the “Father of the 10,000 Steps a Day.” Hatanos is known throughout Japan and the world for his promotion of that plan and its application of the pedometer to measure walking activity. In the past 12 years, his own pedometer has recorded 57 million steps – equivalent to once around the globe.

Another pedometer proponent is the conference keynote speaker, David Bassett Jr., director of Applied Physiology Laboratory in the department of exercise, sport and leisure studies at the University of Tennessee. Bassett and his colleagues are exploring relationships between pedometer-determined “steps per day” to body weight, blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk factors.

Also of interest, Zhu said, will be a demonstration by Xiaohong Sun, a cancer survivor from China selected as one of “100 Against-Cancer Stars” by the Shanghai government. Sun will demonstrate Quo-Lin Qi-gong walking, a type of exercise that couples motion with stillness and meditation and has been widely used in China for cancer care.

Other speakers will address topics such as “Walking and Diabetes”; “Walking and Obesity: A National Perspective”; “Creating a Community Friendly Environment for Walking”; “Labyrinth Walking for Meditation”; and “Walking Behaviors in Children.”

Twelve physical education and health teachers from around the nation are expected to participate in the conference to discuss and promote “We Move Kids!,” a program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and designed to promote walking in school settings.

U. of I. researchers participating in the conference include Zhu; kinesiology and community health department head Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko; kinesiology professor Edward McAuley; and art and design professor Kevin Hamilton.

In addition to conference and related activities on the U. of I. campus, Zhu said a number of local groups and not-for-profit organizations are sponsoring fund-raising walks and other types of walking events throughout the community in October. More information about those events is available by contacting Heidi Krahling, 217-265-5264;

More information about the conference, including a complete program of events and speakers, is available at

More information about the “Walk Toward Wellness” is available at