Almost invariably, when meeting patients in clinic I take the opportunity to discuss whether they have a regular walking program that they follow. In a few patients, exercise is a regular scheduled part of their lives. Some make an effort when they can, trying to make time when possible, while many (the majority?) are “too busy”, “too tired”, or already “very active” ….
But now more than ever, in this time of the Coronavirus pandemic, the benefits of a regular walking program may be more important to our health and well-being than ever before. Many have gone from a regular home and work routine to binging on Netflix and finding great comfort in home cooking and long hours of time on the sofa and sleeping in well beyond the normal routine. While some of this is necessary and emotionally helpful to many, it can present its own unique and perhaps underappreciated health risks. The past weeks are also making clear new risk associated with the COVID-19 virus related to increasing tendency to form blood clots in those infected with the virus as well as known increased complications and death in those with compromised health related to obesity and other comorbid conditions.
And yet, the benefits of a regular walking/exercise program are well-researched and documented. According to the American Heart Association exercise therapy is the best treatment for early symptomatic peripheral vascular disease with studies showing 100-300 percent improvement in walking distance without leg pain within just six weeks of starting a walking program. Another study showed outcomes in patients six months after starting a walking program exceeding those patients treated with endovascular surgical procedures. On the venous side, regular walking improves muscle tone and helps with weight loss and helps prevent venous stasis skin changes and ulceration and can help prevent development of varicose and spider veins and associated venous blood clots. And a new study, just out in the past week that studied 60,000 women over 25 years found that simple lifestyle modifications, even when started past age 50, like a regular walking program could reduce the incidence of stroke by as much as 36%.
And it isn’t really that hard. The Centers for Disease Control recommend at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity activity, such as brisk walking, for adults 18 and older. That may seem like a lot, but when broken down, it’s just 30 minutes 5 times a week. For a walk, and all the benefits that go with it…
- Find walking shoes that fit well
- Start slow, and only increase pace when you can easily handle a slow pace for at least ten minutes. The number one cause of failure is starting too fast and becoming fatigued, discouraged, or both.
- If getting outside right now isn’t possible, indoor walking is fine. If people can run a marathon on a 28-foot balcony or in a 30 ft backyard, a few laps of the living room and dining room is more than doable. Break the 30 minutes into 10-minute segments to make it easier still.
- Treadmills are fine. Avoid incline until you feel absolutely comfortable. For those who are more limited, a stationary bike might be the place to start. Just move.
- Respect your true limitations. If you have history of heart issues, discuss your limits with your personal physician prior to starting. And then start.
- Be alert to chest pain or unusual shortness of breath and report any changes to your physician.
- Also, be alert to beautiful sunrises and the smell of fresh air.
The “Quarantine 15” is real my friends. Some of us may never have a better opportunity to make a change that can alter our health for a lifetime. It doesn’t have to be a marathon or even a 5K. There’s no time like the present, just one step at a time
Hw much physical activity do adults need. (2020, March 19). Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm
Mays, R., & Regensteiner, J. (2014). Exercise Therapy for Claudication: Latest Advances. Current Treat Options Cardiovasc Med, 188-199.
Newsroom: Stroke Journal Report. (2020, April 9). Retrieved from Heart.org: https://newsroom.heart.org/news/womens-lifestyle-changes-even-in-middle-age-may-reduce-future-stroke-risk
RStop the Clot. (n.d.). Retrieved from National Blood Clot Alliance: www.stoptheclot.org/learn_more/dvt/