When a cardiologist invited his patients to walk with him in a local park, 100 people showed up. It was the beginning of a global program.

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Cynthia Franklin wanted to join a Lewis Center, Ohio, local walking group. She tried to stay in shape and have some motivation to exercise. When she discovered the Walk With A Doc program during a search on Meetup, Franklin knew she had found the right program for her needs.

Franklin, now 63, had happened upon the original Walk With A Doc walking group created by cardiologist David Sabgir that same year. Sabgir was eager to help his patients find ways to stay healthy and develop good exercise habits, so he invited them to accompany him on a walk in a local park. 

Surprisingly, more than 100 people arrived, all ready to move and chat with the doctor. The movement continued to grow. Today, the Walk with a Doc program is global with approximately 500 chapters led by doctors in various fields. 

The international nonprofit builds on the health model of simplicity and sustainability and creates an atmosphere of community and communication. A doctor gives a short presentation on a health topic, then leads the way as participants walk at their own pace and for a comfortable distance.

Read: Why it’s getting so hard to find a new doctor, and what to do if you end up looking for one.

The power of walking together

Dr. Jennifer Davis, owner of Healthy Living With Dr. Jenn in Bennington, Vermont, began leading a Walk With A Doc program while working in an ICU at a hospital in Florida. “I attended a lifestyle medicine conference and they had a table there. I was immediately intrigued by the premise,” says Davis. 

“I always had been interested in lifestyle medicine and I wanted to pursue it, because it is so powerful. I set up a local chapter there to start walking and get the word out about lifestyle medicine. It is often looked at as secondary, as opposed to the primary thing we can do to improve our health, our life and our livelihood,” Davis says.

Participants seem to discover the power of simple exercise, she says. “Sometimes people are apprehensive about going out to walk by themselves. Either they are not comfortable in the area or they just need that accountability and social interaction.”

Walking is one of the simplest forms of exercise and is recognized by the U.S. Surgeon General as one of the single most important things that can be done to improve and maintain health. But in some cases, disabilities, traffic dangers, crime or other unsafe physical environments can affect a person’s walking ability. Or time constraints such as work, family or caregiving can interfere.

Learn more: Walking can help you lose weight and get fit — if you do it right. Here’s how to reap rewards from your rambles.

Moving toward health

Davis felt she could benefit from leading the Walk with a Doc program, both through connection with the community and for exercise. She was a runner, but due to arthritis, she had to have a hip replacement. She began walking more as a lower-impact exercise that is much easier on joints such as hips and knees.

Group activities such as Walk With A Doc can motivate families to walk together. Caregivers are also encouraged to bring patients who require wheelchairs to the Walk with a Doc group, and there is no requirement to achieve distance or speed or to maintain an exercise regimen. There is also no fee or membership requirement to join. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), walking or other moderate exercise can improve sleep, cognition, and creativity and reduce anxiety symptoms. Davis talks about plant-based nutrition, stress, sleep and other lifestyle topics on her walks. 

“I cover whatever people want to talk about,” she says. “We talked about avocados, and I had people come back and say they finally tried them. Or they would try [something new] and share what they did or how it made them feel afterward. They enjoy having a group of people to walk with and meet with. It’s good for them and good for me, too.”

Also read: Retirement can disrupt your sleep. How to sleep healthy and avoid the ‘forbidden zone.’

Ready to walk with a doc?

If you are interested in joining a Walk With A Doc group, find out if there is a chapter near you by going to the Walk With A Doc “Join a Walk” page on the website and searching for your location.

If you are a health professional and want to start a chapter in your area, visit the “Start a Walk” page on the website for information. Are you unable to join in person? You can still participate online with the Walking Workout. Join the Walk With A Doc Facebook 

page or download videos to watch or listen to while walking in your neighborhood.

“My success with Walk with a Doc? Staying in shape and continuing to exercise,” says Franklin. “The Walk With A Doc program can help people with loneliness by meeting people. If you come regularly, you can develop relationships.”

“You need to be willing to do something different. You get the chance to speak with a doctor – without the white coat – in a relaxed atmosphere. You can take advantage of the doctor’s information and enjoy the outdoors.”

Rosie Wolf Williams is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in USA Weekend, Woman’s Day, AARP the Magazine and elsewhere.

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org, ©2023 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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