At 8 a.m. Oct. 21, a few staff members from Crescent Community Clinic in Spring Hill, along with some locals, assembled at Towne Square Mall. After brief introductions, we started walking briskly inside the mall from one end to the other and back, then along the walkway, for 30 minutes, led by clinic director Barbara Swineberg and three physicians. Ann-Gayl Ellis of the Hernando County Health Department, Joy Hammond from U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent's office and County Commissioner Diane Rowden also were there. At the end of the walk, everybody said: "We feel great. That was fun."
The occasion was the launch of the "Walk With a Doc" program in Hernando County. We were responding to the call to action by U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, who has urged Americans to walk regularly to improve their health and well-being and has suggested that physicians be at the forefront of the effort in order to set an example. The purpose is to motivate the public to pay attention to health maintenance. Walking is a low-impact, easy-to-do exercise that's safe for most people, including many with heart disease. We plan to do this community walk every Wednesday morning.
Despite great advances in the field of medical science and technology, many serious health problems continue to plague our nation. Until now, hypertension, heart disease and cancer were the main killers, but now diabetes and obesity, having reached epidemic status in the United States, are in this elite company. It's time we pay attention to the adverse trends that threaten our longevity. Experts predict that, for the first time, the life span of younger people may be shorter than the life span of their parents unless steps are taken to forestall the progression of these major health issues.
As we all know, our health, or lack of health, is dependent on two major factors: diet and exercise. (This presumes the absence of tobacco use, drug addiction, excessive use of alcohol and other bad habits.) In other words, lifestyle is the principal determinant of our health, a fact often forgotten. With relentless digital distractions of modern times assaulting the senses of the young and old, old-fashioned exercise patterns have been abandoned.
Medical scientists say soon there will be a barrage of patients who suffer from a new disease: "Sitting Disease." They believe that "without a doubt, excessive sitting (more than six hours a day) contributes to heart disease, various cancers and diabetes." Believe it or not, the average American sits for more than nine hours a day.
According to Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic, "Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death."
These findings have been challenged in a recent study from London that concluded "The problem lies in the absence of movement rather than the time spent sitting itself." So, the emphasis should be to promote physical activity in any form on a regular basis. We ask people who sit for a long time continuously, especially computer professionals, to get up and walk around for a minute or so every one to two hours.
Current statistics show that "one out of every two U.S. adults is living with a chronic disease, like coronary heart disease, cancer or diabetes." Needless to say, these contribute to significant disability, premature death and rising health care costs. Increasing your physical activity level reduces your risk of chronic disease.
"Be fit and live long" should be our new slogan. After diet, physical fitness is the cornerstone of good health. People who exercise regularly benefit from increased longevity and protection from many chronic ailments. Exercise also improves cognitive abilities and helps us maintain ideal body weight. With aging, we tend to become frail and unstable. The only way to maintain good health and independence is by being physically active.
Did you know that you could gain up to two hours of life for each hour of exercise? And you don't need any special equipment or a gym membership. All you have to do is walk around the block in a comfortable pair of shoes for a half-hour and you're done. A total of 150 minutes a week is what the American Heart Association recommends.
So, folks, get out and start walking and take a step toward better health.
Dr. M. P. Ravindra Nathan is a Hernando County cardiologist and author of "Stories From My Heart: A Cardiologist's Reflections on the Gift of Life.”