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A Pandemic Therapy

For most, walking can be the perfect pandemic activity. Walking is socially distanced, yet not isolated, while offering many health benefits.

Walking changes the world. Recently, when protesters demanding racial justice marched on Washington, they followed the footsteps of defiant walkers throughout history. From Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian independence movement to Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement, walking and protest have been interrelated.

Walking is about more than walking, and always has been. Walking soothes. Walking inspires and sharpens the mind. The pandemic has taken away much... not only lives, livelihoods, but our need to feel free too. While there is much we can’t do, WE CAN WALK!

It might be said that with the right mindset, every walk is a pilgrimage. Many a breakthrough has been stumbled upon while putting one foot in front of the other. We run from problems. We walk toward solutions. While working on A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens would walk 15 or 20 miles through the back streets of London, turning over the plot in his mind as the city slept. Beethoven found inspiration while ambling in the verdant Wienerwald outside Vienna.

Recent studies suggest that walking stimulates our creative mind is at its most creative at three miles per hour, the speed of a moderately paced stroll. Stanford University researchers divided participants into two groups: walkers and sitters. They then administered a test designed to measure creativity. They found that creative thinking was “consistently and significantly” higher for the walkers than the sitters. It didn’t take a lot of walking to boost creativity, either—anywhere from 5 to 16 minutes.

Studies have also shown that people who walk regularly are healthier and live longer than those who don’t. Surprisingly, you don’t have to walk very fast or far to enjoy this benefit. One recent study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, put the 10,000-step myth to rest. It is an arbitrary number. People—older adults in particular—accrue health benefits by taking only a few thousand steps each day, and at a leisurely pace.

Benefits of Walking

In addition to stimulating creativity and reducing stress, walking has many benefits. “There’s no question that increasing exercise, even moderately, reduces the risks of many diseases, including coronary heart disease, breast and colon cancer, and Type 2 diabetes,” said Dr. Jennifer Joyce, MD, professor of family medicine at GCSOM. “Research has even shown that you could gain two hours of life for each hour that you exercise regularly.”

According to the American Heart Association, walking as little as 30 minutes a day can provide the following benefits:

Like everything, there is a right way of doing something, even walking. For efficiency and safety, walking with proper stride is important. A fitness stride requires good posture and purposeful movements. Ideally, here's how you'll look when you're walking:

Plan Ahead

Set Realistic Goals

Anything is better than nothing! However, for most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity. The guidelines suggest that you spread out this exercise during the course of a week. Also aim to do strength training exercises of all major muscle groups at least two times a week.

As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. If you can't set aside that much time, try several short sessions of activity throughout the day. Even small amounts of physical activity are helpful, and accumulated activity throughout the day adds up to provide health benefits.

Remember it's OK to start slowly — especially if you haven't been exercising regularly. You might start with five minutes a day the first week, and then increase your time by five minutes each week until you reach at least 30 minutes.

For even more health benefits, aim for at least 60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.

Track Your Progress

Keeping a record of how many steps you take, the distance you walk and how long it takes can help you see where you started from and serve as a source of inspiration. Record these numbers in a walking journal or log them in a spreadsheet or a physical activity app. Another option is to use an electronic device such as a pedometer or fitness tracker to calculate steps and distance.

Sources: National Geographic; Mayo Clinic

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.     

Keep moving, eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and live long and well!

NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!”  

Read all of Dr. Mackarey's articles at:

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.

Florida, Texas, and Arizona have recently reported the highest single-day totals of new COVID-19 cases. The data suggests that reopening too quickly, without adequate guidelines and restrictions is a documented failure. Consequently, Washington State is the latest state to delay its reopening plans. No matter how much we want to return to our normal lives, our lives before COVID-19, we must remain vigilant! The Director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has repeatedly said, “You don’t make the timeline; the virus makes the timeline.”

The pandemic is not over and is not going away anytime soon. We can’t just go off to bars, sporting events, concerts, or summer camps and pretend all is well. Instead, we must learn to live with the virus for now. While feelings of frustration, confusion and even depression have become commonplace, we cannot let our guard down…whether your area is in red, yellow, green or phase 1, 2, or 3.

According to Aaron Hamilton, MD, Associate Chief Safety and Quality Officer at The Cleveland Clinic, “There’s still a lot of COVID-19 in our communities and in our hospitals. We’ve done a lot in society to flatten the curve, which kept people safe and helped healthcare manage the critically ill patients – but this isn’t going away over the course of the summer. The virus is not gone.”

As states and businesses open back up and life tries to carry on, it can be tricky to determine what activities and events are safe and what’s worth skipping. Dr. Hamilton feels that being aware of (and following!) the proper guidelines and safety measures can help you determine the risk level associated with a particular activity. There are actions we can all take that might not look or feel normal, but they can help protect us as we all learn to live in this new world. 

Consider time, space & people: These are the three main factors to consider attending an activity or event; time, space and people


Less is better! Carefully weigh how much time you’ll be spending at the activity. Less time means limiting your risk of exposure to the virus.


Where is the activity or event being held...outside or indoors? If it’s indoors, consider how enclosed or ventilated the space is. We know that it’s safer to be outside than inside (but that doesn’t mean the risk of catching the virus outdoors is zero). You should also consider if the space has a limit on how many people can be there at one time. This will clue you in to how easy or difficult it will be to maintain physical distance from others.


Are the people attending the activity or event outside of your direct household? Consider if they will be following and respecting safety guidelines, which include: 

Where on the spectrum does the activity fall?

“When thinking about the risk of an activity, I like to think of it as a spectrum,” explains Dr. Hamilton. “It’s less about safe vs. not safe, and more about layers of risk. Everybody will have to do a risk assessment for themselves and determine where they’re comfortable and what safety guidelines they’re going to follow.”

On one end of the spectrum, the absolute safest thing to do is to stay at home with your family. On the other end of the spectrum would be large, indoor gatherings. Certain activities will always carry a much higher risk than others. A large, indoor concert is going to be more dangerous than an outdoor picnic with a couple of friends who are following safety measures. How often you choose to partake in riskier activities and events matters as well.

The degree of safety depends on the degree to which you comply with the guidelines.

9 popular activities and events and what to consider when it comes to weighing the risk.

(Dr. Aaron Hamilton, The Cleveland Clinic)

As we all try to determine our new normal, remind yourself that the recommendations are there to keep COVID-19 in a place where we can manage it until we have treatments and vaccines available.

Source: Cleveland Clinic

EVERY MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!”

Check out all of Dr. Mackarey's articles in our archives at:

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine