In early June 2015, my travels took me to the beautiful Detroit suburb of Birmingham, Michigan. I was invited there by my good friend Dr. Barry Franklin, to give a lecture to the leadership at William Beaumont Hospital, where Barry directs their renowned cardiac rehabilitation program. I was honored to speak to this distinguished group, given that Beaumont is the top hospital in Michigan and one of the best in the region. They were interested in what they could do to help get the patients they care for to walk more to improve their health. It is exciting to know that one of the most high tech hospitals in the country understands how powerful walking can be for the health of the patients they care for and is actively trying to encourage them to do it.
Like most big cities, the Detroit Metropolitan area has very high rates of chronic disease and one of the biggest reasons is that its population is mostly sedentary. This is due in part to the weather in the winter and the fact that many areas of the city and its suburbs are not very walkable. Of course this is the home of Ford and other motor companies, so the automobile is king and has been the primary method of transportation for most of the people who live there for decades.
I spoke about the importance of assessing the exercise habits of every patient, at every visit and encouraging each and every one of them to do moderate exercise (like a brisk walk!) for 30 minutes on 5 or more days each week. We know this dose of walking has proven efficacy in helping to prevent and treat virtually every chronic disease and lowering the risk of dying prematurely. I think all physicians should look at the amount of walking their patients do as a vital sign that should be measured at every visit, just like we measure blood pressure. And walking should be considered the first line treatment for most of the chronic diseases we treat, even before medicine is prescribed. I think healthcare providers could to more to improve health by encouraging patients to walk every day than by prescribing many of the pills and procedures we commonly use.
Of course, during my visit I made sure to get out and walk every day. Birmingham is a wonderful city that has all sorts of great places to walk. I stayed at the beautiful Townsend Hotel, which is right in the heart of the city and close to all sorts of great restaurants and shops. For me, walking is always the best way to explore a new city and see the sights. And of course you get all the great health benefits while you are doing it, so what could be better?
Keep walking my friends!