Study proves walking beneficial

by Melanie Evans

A University first-year medical student is taking big strides with her study on small steps.
Senior citizens who stroll the skyways in Minnesota’s winter months now have some cold, hard facts to back what their bones have told them all along — walking a few miles every day can lead to a longer lifespan.
Amy Hakim’s findings, published in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine, are the first to isolate the effects of low-impact exercise on elderly men. The study focused specifically on the impact of walking on non-smoking, retired men.
Hakim’s article is also unique for a second reason — few first-year medical students are published in the influential medical journal.
As the principal investigator for the piece, Hakim, 32, analyzed and compiled the statistics needed for an academic paper. She began in summer 1997 after finishing her master’s thesis at the University of Virginia.
For the study, Hakim reviewed 12 years of data compiled by the Honolulu Heart Program, which tracked the cause of death for 8,006 men of Japanese decent. For her study Hakim selected 707 of these men — aged 61 to 81 — who indicated walking was their primary form of exercise.
Study results found that 43.1 percent of the men who walked less than one mile per day died during the study. In contrast, only 21.5 percent of those who walked two or more miles died.
Another similar study conducted in Massachusetts with a less homogenous population supports Hakim’s research, said Hakim’s advisor and University of Virginia Medical School professor, Robert Abbott.
Little research has been done on seniors, despite the fact that it is one of the fastest growing demographic groups in America, Hakim said.
She added that the results are important because this group absorbs an enormous amount of health care resources.
Working side-by-side with Abbott, Hakim often concluded eight- to 10-hour days by returning home to perform further research and revisions.
But the process of putting an academic paper together involved the efforts of more than one person, Hakim said. She credits Abbott and the co-authors for careful editing and analysis of her paper.
“It was a total collaborative effort,” she said.
Learning how to compile statistical data and write a successful academic paper pushed Hakim to take on the summer project.
Abbott said he is thrilled for his former protegÉ.
Response to the article has been enthusiastic, Abbott said. The author of several articles himself, Abbott spent last week responding to calls from the press.
“I’ve never had anything like this before,” he said.
Abbott attributed the attention to the study’s broad impact.
“If you’re lucky enough to have parents who live to be 65 or older, you’re going to be a provider of geriatric care,” he said.
“If you’re lucky enough to live to 65, you’re going to be a consumer of geriatric care,” he said. “It’s going to affect us all.”
Abbott said he believes the paper will help Hakim secure competitive residencies later in her career.
As a first-year student, she has yet to select an area of specialty. Her primary interest is preventative medicine, which she attributes to her recent work with Abbott.
“We have people who come in with interesting accomplishments in other venues,” Horwitz said. “You name it, we’ve got ’em.”
The wide variety of students keeps things interesting, she said.
“We’re proud and glad to have her here,” Horwitz said.