The Key to Living Better and Longer

What if we were to tell you that there was "medical treatment" that was both preventative and therapeutic for:

-- Cancer

-- Diabetes

-- Heart Disease

-- Pain and disability

-- Psychological disorders

-- Osteoporosis

-- Pulmonary disease

-- Kidney disease

-- Arthritis

-- Erectile dysfunction

-- Menstrual cramps

-- Acne

-- And many other conditions

Your first thoughts would be that this is too good to be true; either that or it's really expensive. You would be wrong on both accounts. This is not a surgery, a drug or an advanced medical device. Even better, it's absolutely free, and you have access to it every day. Have you figured it out? It's exercise -- more specifically, walking! Yes, walking provides all of the benefits listed above, and so much more. Every organ system in the human body functions better with exercise, and by the same token, every organ system can be negatively impacted by lack of exercise. As physiatrists, otherwise known as Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation specialists, one of our primary goals is to optimize function in individuals who have lost or decreased mobility. At the core of our treatment is exercise as medicine. Exercise, in the form of walking, is included in the treatment plans of all patients who are physically able to do so. Even those people who require a wheelchair for mobility will benefit from physical activity, and we recommend they get out and "roll." Other people require walkers, prosthetic legs, braces and maybe an injection to help with pain; regardless of the assistance our patients may need, we recommend they get up and start moving.

Prevention is another important focus in the rehabilitation of our patients. Research has shown that walking has the potential to improve all aspects of our health, and it's never too late to see those benefits. Now, I know we keep referring to walking, because of its low-impact and no-cost nature, but the bottom line is that movement is the key to life. Any form of activity, when done properly, is better than not moving at all.

We've heard "exercise is good for you," but what are the dangers of not exercising? A sedentary lifestyle puts us at risk for diabetes, obesity, back pain, heart disease and depression, and the list goes on. Some studies show that sitting for as little as three hours per day can shorten your lifespan. In the United States, many office jobs require us to sit for long periods of time. Then, after a day of hard work, many of us reward ourselves with leisure activities, such as television, video games, reading books and surfing the web. Research shows that Americans average 7.5 hours per day of sitting. Fortunately, there are many options to help remedy our sitting epidemic. Here are a few tips to get started:

-- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

-- Park farther away from stores to add a few extra steps to your day.

-- Hold walking meetings.

-- At work, use a convertible standing desk, and switch from sitting to standing.

-- Use an elliptical or treadmill while enjoying leisure activities, like streaming TV shows,

-- Engage in free activities at local parks and recreation centers,

-- Join a local "Y" or walking group: exercise is more enjoyable when it's a group activity,

So, how much walking is necessary to improve our health? The American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week. If you are not able to do that much, we recommend you start out slow and work your way up -- because every little bit helps. At Montefiore Health System, in order to help introduce walking to our patients, we started the first Bronx (New York) Chapter of "Walk with a Doc," a national non-profit organization that promotes healthy lifestyle changes through walking. An additional benefit to this program is that doctors and other health care providers exercise with the participants. This is one of the many organizations throughout the country that hold community walking events on a regular basis. Even more exciting, the Surgeon General started a program called "Step It Up!" -- a call to action to make walking a national priority with support and access to resources on the community and national levels. Please take a look at the links below to learn how you can benefit from this walking movement.

Now that we truly know how important walking is, I kindly ask you to back away from the monitor, put down the tablet, place your smartphone in your pocket and get out and start taking steps to a healthier you.

For more information on the American Heart Association Recommendations, visit this site. For more on the American College of Sports Medicines Recommendations, click here. To learn about the Step It Up! program, see here. And for more on Walk with a Doc, visit this site.

Dr. Matthew Bartels is chairman of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Montefiore Health System. Dr. Bartels has often been recognized for his commitment to educating future physicians, including those outside of his specialty of rehabilitation medicine.