Walking the walk: Many health benefits to a daily stroll

Dionne Warwick used to sing “Walk On By.” Dr. Robert E. Benton isn’t a music expert — he’s in the ca

Dionne Warwick used to sing “Walk On By.”

Dr. Robert E. Benton isn’t a music expert — he’s in the cardiology business — but he agrees with Dionne’s exercise advice.

Benton wants people on the move. They can walk like an Egyptian, walk on the wild side or walk the dinosaur — any lyrics will do, as long as people are lacing up and striding out.

“It’s the easiest exercise to get started on,” said Benton, head of cardiology at Samaritan Hospital in Troy and attached to Capital Cardiology Associates, also located in Troy. “It can have a multitude of benefits, it’s not just limited to your heart. You feel better, you improve your blood pressure, your blood sugar. Your mood’s better. There’s clearly evidence that exercise, even if it’s at light levels, will improve anti-oxidants, decrease cancer risk, improve your joints.”

Spring weather has put more bicyclists and runners in play, and more and more walkers on neighborhood streets, in parks, on high school running tracks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, more than 145 million adults include walking in their exercise lifestyles. The CDC said more than six in 10 people walk for transportation, fun, relaxation or exercise. In 2010, the percentage of people who reported they walked at least once for 10 minutes or more during the week rose from 56 percent (in 2005) to 62 percent.

The CDC has other stats that support walking:

u Adults need between 2 and 2 1/2 hours of aerobic physical activity — like fast-pace walking — every week.

u Inactive adults have a higher risk for early death, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and depression.

u Regular exercise helps people reach and maintain healthy weights.

Benton and a colleague, Dr. Scott Morris, encourage people to walk with them every month. The “Walk With a Doc” program, a national movement that began in Ohio in 2005, has been in Troy since 2011. The doctors greet walkers on the second Saturday of each month at 8 a.m. at Riverfront Park and walk four or five miles. Questions and answers about heart health are part of the routine.

“You can walk pretty much in most weather, even light rain you can walk,” Benton said. “You have to be careful on hot days.”

He added his Troy walking group has always been fortunate with the weather.

“It’s never rained on us; we’ve never had a rain-out,” said Benton, proud his group has frequently been walking on sunshine. “Our joke is if you want to find a nice time of the day in Troy, it’s during ‘Walk With a Doc.’ ”

More benefits

The national group’s Web site adds to the CDC’s list of benefits. Walking will strengthen lungs, provide more oxygen to organs and muscles, stimulate digestion, burn up toxins in the body, boost energy and helps manage arthritis. The full list of 100 reasons to walk can be accessed at www.walkwithadoc.org.

Benton said people can walk at nearly any age. They can begin with light walking, and gradually increase the length and speed of their ambulatory adventures. At least 30 minutes a day is a good target. Speed-walking is OK, so is walking with light weights.

“You always want to check with your doctor to see if you have any risk factors and are there reasons to have a stress test before you start something like this,” Benton said.

Benton added the only cost involved might be the purchase of a comfortable pair of walking or athletic shoes. There are no worries about blowouts on the road; walking with friends also provides fulfills social needs: Conversation is part of the experience.

“I learn so much from patients about various topics,” Benton said. “I know patients who are professors, patients who are in politics, we talk a lot about sports.”

Niskayuna walkers

The Schenectady County Bike Path is a popular destination for walkers, runners and bicyclists. At Lions Park in Niskayuna, Earl Bristol said he walks a couple miles every day near the Mohawk River. Sometimes, he’ll come back later and make it a double session.

“I’m retired, I’ve got time,” said Bristol, 65, who lives in Niskayuna. “I just like to be on the river, see the chipmunks and the squirrels. The damn turkeys came out on me one day. They’re in there.”

Bristol started his routine a couple months ago, partly as a way to reduce a winter weight gain of 11 pounds. “I’ve lost about eight pounds already,” he said.

Elizabeth Penk, 61, tries to make walks part of her daily routine. The exercise is easy, and not too strenuous.

“They say it’s good for you even if you can fit in 30 minutes a day,” Penk said. “It’s a stress reducer after a long day at work.”

For some people walking becomes a party. Christina Guidarelli, 47, of Schenectady, hit the path with her daughter Christine, 18, and dogs Hanna, a Husky Shar Pei, and Miles, a Golden Retriever.

“They’ll sleep tonight,” Christina said of the four-legged walkers.

The handlers enjoyed other benefits.

“It cleans your mind, it relaxes you,” Christina said. “Plus, you walk by the water. It’s just beautiful, the view.”

Benton suggests people walk in neighborhoods with light traffic. Parks and shopping malls, longtime favorites for walkers, are also great places for exercise.

There are even games people can play during their walks, like setting a goal of 30, 60 or 90 minutes and seeing how far they can travel during that block of time. Then they can turn around, walk back home and see if they can beat the first half time.

“It’s low-impact, and you go at your own pace,” Benton said. “It’s the exercise with the lowest drop-out rate.”

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter. His blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/wilkin.

Categories: Life and Arts

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