Recently a patient asked my recommendations for purchasing exercise equipment to use at home. The person had enjoyed a generally healthy life and was interested in keeping that trend going so the later following years wouldn’t become a series of very expensive dates with various practitioners of medicine.

I advised her to get a comfortable pair of shoes and walk. The patient pondered my counsel for a moment and replied that Dr. Waldmann had told her the same thing forty years prior.

Dr. George Waldmann, a founding partner of Madras Medical Group, practiced in Madras from 1970 to 1997. At the start of his career the average American lived about 71 years, rarely thought about exercise but generally spent far more time engaged in physical activity.

Most physicians were general practitioners, specialists were rarely consulted and the typical office visit cost about $35. Fast forward to 2010 for the latest data and we are now living about 8 years longer, our jobs and lifestyle are more sedentary and we drive to gyms to peddle stationary bikes at a monthly cost that exceeds Dr. Waldmann’s modest fees.

Much has changed, but our bodies have not and a vast body of research validates the strong benefits of physical activity, particularly that of an aerobic nature. Regular exercise is associated with risk reduction of 40-50 percent for colon cancer, 30-40 percent for breast cancer and 38-46 percent for uterine cancer. In the cardiovascular system moderate physical activity decreases heart attack risk by 27-41 percent and adult onset diabetes risk is reduced by a staggering 58 percent.

Recent research utilizing MRI scans has demonstrated that a brisk 40 minute walk looping around Juniper Hills Park or strolling up and down the M Hill three times a week can fundamentally increase the size of your brain even if you take up that habit in your sixties and seventies. This is a small sampling but the results are consistent and touch on almost all aspects of our health in a positive manner.

Simply put consistent aerobic activity seems to give about a 40 percent better chance that we will not be seeing the doctor for a myriad of health problems. No medication exists that touches so many of the body’s systems in such a protective manner with minimal adverse side effects at a bargain basement price.

If exercise is medication, the question arises as to what dose do we need to get the therapeutic effects.

The research suggests a minimum of 30 minutes three times a week has benefits, strong evidence exists that 150 minutes a week spread over 4-6 days will give that 40 percent level protection. How hard to go, or intensity, of those activities is best determined by an elevation of resting heart rate to between 60-85 percent of maximum heart rate with the upper end reserved for highly trained individuals.

A brisk walk will get it done for most folks, but the heart doesn’t seem to mind what activity is being performed provided it is sustained and consistent.

Any journey begins with a single step and our individual variation places each of us at our own spot on that path. Successfully taking a step forward on an exercise program demands respect for where you have been and each of us needs different tools to most successfully move forward.

Our community has a multitude of resources to make the step easy and the journey smooth. A variety of health care professionals, community events such as Moving Mountains, interest groups like MADras Runners, facilities and programs through the MAC recreation district are but a few examples.

Query Google about 5 km training plans and in a mere .4 seconds nearly a quarter billion results pop up.

A hallmark of a masterful clinician is to do the basics well and Dr. Waldmann seems to have met that standard with his sage advice many years ago. Search engines, social media and recreation districts were things of the future when he first warmed a stethoscope in Jefferson County, but our body’s basic needs have remained constant.

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