Westerville, Ohio (CNN) Cardiologist Dr. David Sabgir thought he was doing everything he could to help his patients.
He spent extra time during appointments, listening to their issues and giving advice on how to live a healthier life.
“But in the end, I just wasn’t successful at encouraging them to get out there and get physically active,” said Sabgir, who has been in practice for 12 years.
Heart disease is the number one killer in America. But 80% of cardiovascular disease is preventable with more exercise and simple lifestyle changes.Yet Sabgir found that only five percent of his patients were getting the recommended 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity.
“I was frustrated,” he said. “So one day I asked a few patients to meet me and my family in the park to take a walk.”
At the first walk in 2005, 101 people showed up.
Today, Sabgir’s nonprofit, Walk with a Doc, has expanded to more than 160 chapters around the country. Doctors and patients walk together in local parks on a regular basis, continuing the health conversation and getting fit.
“There’s no wait in the office. There’s no fear of bad news,” Sabgir said. “It’s just the patient and the physician talking about whatever the patient wants to talk about.”
Sabgir has seen so many people turn around their health. Some who started out only walking a mile or two have gone on to run marathons.
Walk with a Doc participants are 80% more likely to increase their physical activity after starting the program, Sabgir says.
“As a doctor, we are respected enough for people to listen to us. That’s a gift that we should take seriously,” Sabgir said. “I tell my patients, ‘It’s important to me that you are healthy.'”
CNN spoke to Sabgir about his work. Below is an edited version of the conversation.
CNN: What’s the biggest issue you face as a cardiologist?
Sabgir: I would say over 95% of the patients I see in the office are living a sedentary life. There are a lot of challenges to get into a regular routine of moderate physical activity. All of us are busy. We get caught up in work and family. We put ourselves second to everything else that’s going on.
In reality, exercise is the best thing we can do for ourselves, even if it’s going for a walk for 10 minutes, 20 minutes at a time. In the office, I have this incredible opportunity to reach people and encourage them to get out there and get the recommended (amount) of moderate physical activity.
CNN: Is walking really as effective as other forms of exercise?
Sabgir: I think there’s a common misperception that walking is not as good as running or cycling or swimming. You’re getting almost everything by going for a simple walk. It does a million things. It reduces heart attacks, stroke, heart failure, diabetes. It reduces your blood pressure, colon cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, osteoarthritis, anxiety and depression. The list goes on and on. There are over 40 diseases that walking either prevents or treats.
Walking is as easy as it sounds. All you really need is a pair of shoes. It’s really a miraculous drug that affects all demographics.