Local physicians walk the talk TheSpec.com - healthfitness - Local physicians walk the talkWORKING OUT WITH DRS. HERTZEL GERSTEIN, GREG CURNEW AND RICHARD TOZER
Special to The Hamilton Spectator
(May 28, 2010)
Docs who walk: Doctors are well-known for working long, unpredictable hours under stressful conditions.
So how can doctors -- who are in the business of promoting good health -- find time for regular exercise?
One solution is to build exercise into everyday activities, say Hamilton Health Sciences physicians who walk to stay physically active.
Diabetes specialist Hertzel Gerstein conducts meetings with colleagues while walking.
Cardiologist Greg Curnew organized a lunchtime walking group called the Million Step Club.
And cancer specialist Richard Tozer walks to work every day, year-round. Tozer's daily trek includes climbing the escarpment stairs.
Pedometers: "Many people will spend the day doing essentially no activity," says Gerstein, who wears a pedometer every day to track his steps.
This small device is worn near the hip to count and record the number of steps taken. There are many types of pedometers on the market.
"The really cheap ones are not that reliable," warns Gerstein, who recommends spending at least $25 for a dependable model.
It's recommended that people take at least 10,000 steps a day -- the equivalent of walking eight kilometres. Yet the average Canadian takes only 3,000 to 4,000 steps a day.
"It's very informative for people to wear a pedometer to see what they're actually doing," says Gerstein, who aims for 13,000 to 14,000 steps a day.
Wearing one could be a wake-up call for people with desk jobs.
"You may find at the end of the day you've walked 1,000 steps -- which is almost nothing."
Studies have shown that the pedometer should be worn as close as possible to the top point of the hip bone for maximum accuracy, says Curnew. Wearing it closer to the centre of the body gives inaccurate readings.
Talk and walk: "If I have meetings with people in my office, we often do strolling meetings where we can talk and walk at the same time," says Gerstein, who works at the McMaster University Medical Centre.
"There's no reason why two people have to sit across a desk to have a meeting."
When Gerstein has documents to read or notes to dictate, he'll do this while walking the halls, as long as it doesn't involve confidential information.
Healthy choices: Being physically active can help prevent disease -- including diabetes, adds Gerstein.
"Studies have shown very clearly that if you do an average of about 30 minutes of brisk walking at least five days a week, combined with very modest dietary changes, it reduces your risk of diabetes by 50 to 60 per cent."
Physical activity is also one of the best ways to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, adds Curnew, who wears a pedometer and aims for 10,000 to 15,000 steps a day.
When you're active 30 to 60 minutes a day on most days of the week, you can dramatically lower your risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario.
Regular activity also helps prevent and control risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity. Adding more activity to your daily life may also reduce stress levels, increase energy and improve sleep and digestion.
"We're trying to get people to be active," says Curnew, who encourages his patients to wear a pedometer and join his Million Step Club.
"If you do 10,000 steps a day, it takes roughly three months (to walk one million steps)."
Curnew has also organized group walks from his office. They will start in June and take place every Thursday during the lunch hour.
In addition to walking at least 10,000 steps a day, Curnew recommends aiming for seven hours of sporting activity per week as a way to improve cardiovascular fitness. His sport of choice is squash.
Weight loss: If weight loss is your goal, physical activity alone won't be enough, says Gerstein. "You need to combine dietary changes with physical activity."
For many people, all it takes is a small reduction in what they're eating each day.
"If you can cut 200 calories a day out of your diet, that can add up to a 10-pound weight loss over a year," says Gerstein.
Tozer, an oncologist at the Juravinski Cancer Centre, lost 40 pounds by walking to work every day and following the Weight Watchers program where all foods are assigned a point value based on the calorie, fat and fibre content.
Tozer doesn't wear a pedometer. Instead, he walks at a very brisk pace over set time periods. It takes him 40 minutes to walk from his home to the Juravinski Cancer Centre on Hamilton Mountain. He walks home whenever possible, and also goes for regular evening walks lasting 90 minutes.
"I basically traded in my briefcase for my knapsack, and I've never looked back," says Tozer. He credits walking with helping him to trim down and improve his stamina.
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, up to 35 per cent of all cancers can be prevented by being active, eating well and maintaining a healthy body weight.
After not smoking, maintaining a healthy body weight is one of the best things people can do to reduce their risk of getting cancer.
Walk with the doc
What & Who: Free midday group walks with Dr. Greg Curnew are open to anyone.
When: noon Thursdays starting in June. Contact number below for exact date.
Where: Meet at Dr. Curnew's office, 414 Victoria Ave. N.
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photo: Ron Albertson, the Hamilton Spectator