An international program, Walk with a Doc, has a new chapter here in Pictou County!

The idea of Walk with a Doc is so simple. You go for a walk; with friends, family, and someone from the medical community to give you a little information, and a lot of motivation.

Walk with a Doc was started in 2005 by Dr. David Sabgir, a cardiologist in Columbus, Ohio. Frustrated with his inability to affect behavior change in the clinical setting, Dr. Sabgir invited his patients to go for a walk with him in a local park on a spring Saturday morning. To his surprise, over 100 people showed up, energized and ready to move. Today, Walk with a Doc is an international organization with nearly 500 chapters worldwide. As of February 2019, that number includes a chapter in Pictou County. Community organizers Sally O'Neill of Active Pictou County, and Dr. Brad MacDougall, local family physician have spent the winter researching the program, and recruiting members of the medical and health community to participate as walk leaders and community champions.  

"I’m a believer that physical activity is our best medicine." says Dr. Brad. "It’s one thing to give exercise recommendations and advice, but to have the opportunity to join the community and “walk the walk” is a whole other level. I think if the community sees that healthcare professionals believe so much in the power of exercise for health improvement that they’re willing to volunteer their weekend time to participate, that hopefully it will resonate and inspire more people to get active." 

It was a perfect fit for Active Pictou County, whose mandate is to create opportunities and reduce barriers to participation in physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle. Results of the recently conducted Physical Activity Community Survey (Nova Insights, November 2018) show walking as the most popular activity for folks who want to get active and improve their health. One of the most significant barriers reported in the survey of over 500 Pictou County homes by random digit dialing, is having no one to go and be active with. This presents a strong case for the creation of social opportunities for walking among friends, and making new, active connections with like-minded people. 

"Walk with a Doc offers the perfect platform to create these social connections around physical activity," states Active Pictou County Coordinator, Sally O'Neill. "When the doctor, and healthcare provider is willing to walk alongside you, and give you that kind of personal support, it makes all the difference in the world. When your doctor is waiting for you at the track to share a morning walk, you're not going to stand them up!".

O'Neill hopes the twice monthly schedule will be easy for people to commit to, and that friendships and connections will build in a fun and low-pressure active environment. Everyone is welcome to the walks, and encouraged to participate at the level of their own comfort. 

Dr. MacDougall is hopeful that the professional health community's involvement will attract participants who may be hesitant to exercise due to health issues. Hopefully having healthcare professionals present will give them added confidence to come out and give walking a try. He is also conscious of the mental health benefits to be gained from gathering regularly with others for positive recreation. 

"The social benefits of getting out and walking as a group shouldn’t be underestimated. We know that loneliness and social isolation are not good for mental or physical health. Bringing people together to socialize and be active in a supportive setting will undoubtedly lead to improved health. I’m hoping people will bring their neighbours, friends and family, and have fun!"

Walk with a Doc Pictou County kicked-off the first walk of the season Saturday March 16th, with over 50 participants, and local healthcare providers included five doctors, a visiting medical student, a dietitian, a dentist, psychiatrists and numerous physio, pharmacists and nurses.

Who: All ages and abilities welcome (Indoor walking track is a comfortable surface for strollers, wheelchairs and other mobility aids)

What: Walk with a Doc - a brief talk (less than 10 min) on a health related subject followed by a morning walk or wheel

When: Every two weeks, following the initial March 16th start date

Where: Pictou County Wellness Centre Indoor Walking Track - plans to move outdoors to a variety of locations when weather permits. 

Why:  So many reasons! Healthier life, friends, information, movement, being part of something big, FUN.

More information on the group, including updates can be found on their Facebook page HERE

Author: Sally O’Neil, Coordinator for Active Pictou County – a cooperative municipal and provincial partnership focused on getting people active