Personal Health|August 4, 2013 8:00 AM

‘Walk with a Doc’ hits its stride

National program catching on in Colorado

Walk with a Doc programs have been launched in many Colorado communities – including Grand Junction, Loveland, Denver and Pueblo. Photo by Shelley Schlender/Colorado Public News

Walk with a Doc programs have been launched in many Colorado communities – including Grand Junction, Loveland, Denver and Pueblo. Photo by Shelley Schlender/Colorado Public News

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Reported by Shelley Schlender
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Every Saturday morning, Shirley Epstein puts on her walking shoes and heads to a tree-lined park to join dozens of friends, and her doctor, for a long walk.

Dr. Andrew Freeman, a cardiologist at National Jewish Health, has been a driving force behind launching the "Walk With a Doc" programs in Colorado. Photo by Shelley Schlender/Colorado Public News

Dr. Andrew Freeman, a cardiologist at National Jewish Health, has been a driving force behind launching the “Walk With a Doc” programs in Colorado. Photo by Shelley Schlender/Colorado Public News

Epstein’s walk with her doc is taking place in Denver. But it’s part of a program being replicated across the state – from Grand Junction to Pueblo to Fort Collins to Greeley – as a national effort to “Walk with a Doc” has caught on among medical professionals and hundreds of their patients in Colorado.

“You get information,” Epstein said about the outings, which include walking up to two miles, plus informal chats with the doctors and other health experts who volunteer to walk with people and answer questions. “It’s such a congenial nice group, and lovely parks.”

Now in its third year, Denver’s “Walk with a Doc” attracts more than 100 people, of all ages and walking skills. “I have a few people who started just a few blocks, and now they walk with us the whole way, or most of the way, where they never thought they could before,” said organizer Dr. Andrew Freeman, a cardiologist at National Jewish Health.

That includes people who’ve recently had a serious health problem, such as open-heart surgery, or cancer treatments, or failing lungs. It also includes those who have living sedentary lifestyles and committing to an exercise routine.

Numerous studies have shown that, while Colorado is the leanest state in the country, yet more than half the state’s residents are overweight or obese. And, the rates are continuing to rise, increasing the risk of diseases from diabetes to heart attacks.

For many, having a medical professional along for a walk is “really comforting,” Freeman said. But it’s also not an intimidating prospect. “I’m not wearing a white coat, I’m not wearing a stethoscope,” the doctor said. “I’m wearing shorts and sneakers, just like everyone else.”

Many communities have other walking and hiking clubs in place, and “Walk with a Doc” is growing more popular across Colorado. Pueblo’s St. Mary Corwin launched a program this year. In Fort Collins the Women’s Resource Center of Larimer County started a monthly “Walk with a Doc” in January.  In June, the center launched another monthly walk, in Loveland. Women’s Resource Center Director Mary Vivo says around 40 people currently participate.

“You have a healthy snack, get your blood pressure checked, listen to a doctor give a health talk, go on a walk, get your blood pressure checked, ask some more questions and then you get on with your day,” Vivo said.

Vivo says that walking with a doctor is a key attraction. “It brings the docs down to a human level, and for those of us who don’t always ask the right question at the doctor’s office, it’s a way to get them answered in a more casual setting.”

Dr. David Rosenbaum, head of the American Cardiology Colorado Chapter, noted the benefits of walking for even a short period of time. “A study from the Mayo Clinic last summer suggested that 10 minutes of brisk walking a day may reduce your risk of heart attack by about half.”

Rosenbaum, a cardiologist at the Pikes Peak Medical Center in Colorado Springs, said he hopes to launch a “Walk with a Doc” program in his city.  “I definitely could see myself walking at each of the events, and getting more physicians involved,” he said.

Back in Denver, as Freeman completed a mile around the park, he described Walk with a Doc as great medicine. ‘If you go to your doctor with a problem – you can’t breathe, or you have chest pain – you want a solution. You want a pill.

“The solution,” he said, “is really [to change] your life.”

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