There is one medicine that I prescribe for my patients at almost every appointment. Now, before I get accused of being a “pill pusher,” this particular prescription is a for a generic medicine with unlimited refills and no copay. My patients love it because works every time… and it has no side effects. A magic bullet indeed.
So what is this magic medicine? It’s your own two feet. Walking for at least 30 minutes is a medicine that every person should take, every day. And I do practice what I preach; daily walking is my morning medicine, too. My wife and I walk for 45 minutes every day, no matter what the weather is like. We like to say: “There is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.” So, whether it’s sunny, rainy, sleeting, or snowing, we are out there walking: 7 days a week, 12 months a year. Every day. At least 30 minutes, 365 days year round.
To help my patients understand this prescription, I start by asking them if they brush their teeth. Most of them say something like, “Yes, every day, usually twice.” (If they happen to say no… we’ll spend a few extra minutes on the benefits of good dental hygiene.) My follow up question is then: “So… in the last year, how many days do you think you brushed your teeth?” Most people simply answer, “365.” I’ll then ask if they needed to convince and cajole themselves to do it… or if it just happens, like it’s on auto-pilot. For most people who are in the habit of brushing their teeth, it is exactly that… a habit, a healthy one.
The lesson here is to think about a daily walk in just that same way. Make it part of your routine, make it happen every day for a few weeks, and after awhile, it just starts to happen automatically. In just a few weeks, you can get to the point that you won’t need to argue with yourself about it — you just get it done.
Nearly 2,500 years ago, Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, said: “Walking is man’s best medicine.” Assuming he was including women in his statement… he was absolutely right. Walking is the foundation of an active lifestyle and a crucial cornerstone of any treatment or prevention program. There is a mountain of evidence that shows that a regular regimen of walking improves heart health and parameters associated with cardiovascular risk, and more studies are coming out every year. As if we needed even more new research to tell us that walking was healthy! Nonetheless, it’s great to see that medical research continues to prove that “medicine” is not just pills.
The idea of “prescription walking” for at least 30 minutes per day is a safe and easy way to deliver health benefits to virtually anyone. But the value of walking doesn’t stop there. I like to remind my patients that walking can be a perfectly reliable transportation service, too. How quickly we forget that you can actually get somewhere on your own to feet. The next time you need to be somewhere that is less than a mile away, you only need to leave a little extra time to try walking there. You might even find a shortcut, a trail, or a nice part of town you didn’t know existed. And you’ll be amazed at the difference in how you feel when you arrive at your destination compared to when you drive.
In addition to the value of walking for health and for transportation, there’s yet another reason to get out there. Some of you might choose to listen to music. Others would rather unplug and quietly enjoy the sights and sounds around you. Some of you might use a walk to spend time with your pet. And all of us can use a walk to catch up with someone we care about. It’s fun, relaxing, and a great way to connect with another human being. If you ask anyone who is in the habit of a daily walk, they tell you that it is indeed a recreational activity.
I’ll meet you out there on the streets!
– Dr. Joshua Levitt