Add Walk With a Doc to Your Weekend Routine

Raj Makkar, NSHA Manager of Ambulatory Care/Cardio-respiratory Services and Senior’s Clinic; Heather Fraser, Director of Recreation and Leisure Services, Rath Eastlink Community Centre and Dr. Stephen Ellis, Truro area physician and driving force behind the Truro Walk with a Doc program.

Truro-area family physician Stephen Ellis has turned health advice into action, stepping out of his practice to practise what he promotes. 

On Saturday mornings, you can find Dr. Ellis walking the indoor track at the Rath Eastlink Community Centre (RECC) in Truro. And he’s not alone. 

Ellis launched Walk with a Doc in late October, and it runs every Saturday from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. with the support of Raj Makkar, NSHA Manager of Ambulatory Care/Cardio-respiratory Services and Senior’s Clinic, local physicians, the RECC, and other community partners. 

“It was something I had thought about for many years in relation to the health issues I was seeing in my patients,” he said. “It’s as simple as telling someone to go for a walk or asking them to go for a walk with you.”  

The latter is proving to be a big motivator, with an average of 50 participants, five physicians and other supporters joining him each week. They kick-off the walk with a short presentation on a weekly health topic, then they walk and talk.   

Participants can walk as fast or slow as they like, for as long as they like, with or without breaks or with assistive devices like walkers or canes. They can ask the doctors questions, or they can just walk.  What is important is that that they are there, that they are working activity into their day and that they have some fun and social time in the process. 

So what is Dr. Ellis’s ask in return?  “I ask them to bring someone back with them next week.” And they are.

Walk with A Doc has a mission to educate, exercise and empower. It was originally created by Ohio cardiologist, Dr. David Sagbir. Frustrated with his inability to help his patients make behaviour changes in his office setting, one spring morning in 2005 he invited his patients to go for a walk in a local park. To his surprise, it resulted in more than 100 people showing up, energized and ready to move.

Since that first event, his simple model has grown across the United States and spread to other countries, including a few sites in Canada. Dr. Ellis was pleased to learn that there was a formal program he could tap into and Truro is the first community east of Toronto known to have joined the movement. 

He recalls that the initiative took off quickly once he began mentioning it to colleagues like Raj Makkar. “We have to do this, was his immediate response.”

Makkar received the same response when he reached out to Matt Moore, Managing Director at RECC. “He told me, of course; that is why we are here.” 

“The Walk With A Doc program has been an integral part of the RECC's success,” said Moore. “By collaborating with our likeminded local physicians we have created a "barrier free" pathway to active living for our residents."

The beauty of this program is that it is simple to launch, easy to promote and simple to run. Local physicians sponsored the small start-up cost, to the Walk With a Doc organization. In return participants received T-shirts and pedometers. The response was great enough that more shirts were sourced locally.

“People tell us they are doing more laps each week; we have one walker who has lost 35 pounds since he started and the remarkable part is that we have people out moving that normally wouldn’t,” Makkar said. 

While keeping it simple remains their philosophy, Ellis and Makkar are full of ideas and ever-mindful of the possibilities. 

“We’ve partnered with Truro’s (Atlantic) Superstore to have their dietician and chef offer healthy cooking tips over a number of months and we have a few other plans in the works.”

Seven months in, it’s clear the program has been a huge success and both agree they would love to see other communities around the province step up to help get Nova Scotians moving. 

Challenge issued …any takers?