Doctor ditches white coat for walking shoes

CNN Hero Dr. David Sabgir
CNN Hero Dr. David Sabgir

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CNN Hero Dr. David Sabgir 01:48

Story highlights

  • CNN Hero Dr. David Sabgir's nonprofit spurs doctors and patients to meet for regular walks
  • His organization, Walk with a Doc, has more than 160 chapters nationwide
  • Top 10 CNN Heroes for 2015 will be revealed October 8 on CNN.com and CNN's 'New Day'

Westerville, Ohio (CNN)Cardiologist Dr. David Sabgir thought he was doing everything he could to help his patients. 

He spent extra time during appointments, listening to their issues and giving advice on how to live a healthier life.
"But in the end, I just wasn't successful at encouraging them to get out there and get physically active," said Sabgir, who has been in practice for 12 years.
    Heart disease is the number one killer in America. But 80% of cardiovascular disease is preventable with more exercise and simple lifestyle changes.Yet Sabgir found that only five percent of his patients were getting the recommended 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity.
    "I was frustrated," he said. "So one day I asked a few patients to meet me and my family in the park to take a walk."
    At the first walk in 2005, 101 people showed up.
    Today, Sabgir's nonprofit, Walk with a Doc, has expanded to more than 160 chapters around the country. Doctors and patients walk together in local parks on a regular basis, continuing the health conversation and getting fit.
    "There's no wait in the office. There's no fear of bad news," Sabgir said. "It's just the patient and the physician talking about whatever the patient wants to talk about."
    Sabgir has seen so many people turn around their health. Some who started out only walking a mile or two have gone on to run marathons.
    Walk with a Doc participants are 80% more likely to increase their physical activity after starting the program, Sabgir says.
    "As a doctor, we are respected enough for people to listen to us. That's a gift that we should take seriously," Sabgir said. "I tell my patients, 'It's important to me that you are healthy.'"
    CNN spoke to Sabgir about his work. Below is an edited version of the conversation.
    CNN: What's the biggest issue you face as a cardiologist?
    Sabgir: I would say over 95% of the patients I see in the office are living a sedentary life. There are a lot of challenges to get into a regular routine of moderate physical activity. All of us are busy. We get caught up in work and family. We put ourselves second to everything else that's going on.
    In reality, exercise is the best thing we can do for ourselves, even if it's going for a walk for 10 minutes, 20 minutes at a time. In the office, I have this incredible opportunity to reach people and encourage them to get out there and get the recommended (amount) of moderate physical activity.
    CNN: Is walking really as effective as other forms of exercise?
    Sabgir: I think there's a common misperception that walking is not as good as running or cycling or swimming. You're getting almost everything by going for a simple walk. It does a million things. It reduces heart attacks, stroke, heart failure, diabetes. It reduces your blood pressure, colon cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, osteoarthritis, anxiety and depression. The list goes on and on. There are over 40 diseases that walking either prevents or treats.
    Walking is as easy as it sounds. All you really need is a pair of shoes. It's really a miraculous drug that affects all demographics.
    Extra: Walk with a Doc
    Extra: Walk with a Doc

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    Extra: Walk with a Doc 02:34
    CNN: Why are people who have never been active before able to stick with the Walk with a Doc program?
    Sabgir: It's safety in numbers. It's easier to start something when you have a support system, and that's what we have. It keeps you on track. You're being held accountable from others. You're holding others accountable in a very good way. And I think that's why we've seen so much success within our chapters.
    And the community enjoys walking with a doctor. It's breaking down barriers. That white coat syndrome goes away. People aren't sitting in an office worried about what news they are going to get. They can openly ask questions and start a real discussion about their health. They have the opportunity to come up and ask whatever they want.
    CNN: You spend a lot of your day walking. What is that like?
    Sabgir: If I'm not sitting with a patient, I'm walking. I will park in the far spot of the parking lot. I walk to my treadmill desk, where I spend a good portion of the day walking, either reading echocardiograms or stress tests or taking care of charts. Then I walk to my Walk with a Doc office, where we also have a treadmill desk. Then often at lunch I will go walk outside, as it gives me an energy boost. And then on Saturday mornings, I love to walk at the park with the community.
    I believe that walking is the cure that we are looking for. Walking is something that you want to lay down on the tracks for because it can immediately affect lives, and it can affect lives for the long term.
    Want to get involved? Check out the Walk with a Doc website at www.walkwithadoc.org and see how to help.