Walk with a Doc mixes information with exercise

It’s a warmish morning, but seasoned with a refreshing measure of cool air, creating one of those prespring days that you wish would hang around Southern Nevada year-round.

It’s a perfect day for a walk at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve, particularly a walk mixed with a bit of health education, and that’s why a group of casually dressed walkers gathers at the entrance to the preserve’s trails network. They’re here to participate in the March edition of Walk with a Doc, a free program sponsored by University Medical Center that offers both fresh-air exercise and the chance to meet a few health care professionals.

UMC’s Walk with a Doc program is part of a loosely knit national effort begun in 2005 by Dr. David Sabgir, a Columbus, Ohio, cardiologist, as a way of encouraging physical activity. Since then, the program has expanded to most of the states as well as locations in Canada, Ireland, Australia and Russia.

Local Walk with a Doc outings are held at 9:30 a.m. on the third Thursday of every month, usually at the Springs Preserve. There’s no cost to participate, and all participants need do is to show up wearing their most comfortable walking shoes and packing a curious mind.

Each month’s session revolves around a specific health topic or medical specialty. Last month’s Walk with a Doc began with a short presentation by UMC officials and Nevada Donor Network representatives about kidney health and organ donation.

Dinorah Arambula, a volunteer with Nevada Donor Network, began by discussing the always-urgent need for organ donations. She knows the topic from both a professional and personal vantage point, because she is, herself, the recipient of a donor kidney.

While the outdoor setting and prehike agenda is a bit unusual, she says, “this is pretty much what I’ve been doing for the last three years.”

So consider it just a bonus that Arambula says she does “a lot of hiking,” particularly at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, as part of her exercise regimen. Beyond hiking, she has won several medals in the Transplant Games of America competition and hopes to compete in this year’s World Transplant Games in Argentina.

The informational session conducted by Arambula and UMC representatives is low-key and casual, with a laid-back vibe that meshes well with its surroundings. After a few questions are taken from hikers, it’s time to walk.

It’s not a strenuous hike, but one that takes hikers far enough into the preserve’s trails system to make it feel like they’re no longer in an urban environment. Along the way, walkers can talk with the health care professionals who join them or just appreciate the chance for a nice midmorning stroll.

Linda Butler says she enjoys not just the walks, but the chance to talk to the physicians, nurses and others in a casual, nonoffice setting. In an examination room, “it’s hard to spend 15 minutes with a doctor,” she says.

Butler says she enjoys getting outside, “and I like to find out about my health,” and that, she figures, makes Walk with a Doc “a great program.”

It’s Stephanie Brown’s first Walk with a Doc hike. She suffered a stroke about two years ago — “the causes were stress, high blood pressure and high cholesterol,” she says — and while there are no obvious visible effects, she’s still using a cane as much, she says, for moral support as physical.

Although it’s her first Walk with a Doc hike, Brown is an experienced recreational walker. When she lived in Heidelberg, Germany — her military husband was stationed there — Brown took part in Volksmarches, popular recreational walking events.

Participants received medals for walks, and the events were as much about fun and socializing as they were for fitness, Brown says. When she learned about Walk with a Doc through Meetup.com, she thought she’d give it a try.

“I hate exercise, but I love to walk,” says Brown, who figures that Walk with a Doc hikes could be a way to “build my confidence that I can do it, because I don’t want to depend on this cane.”

Cheryl Keown has been participating in Walk with a Doc since the first hike and calls the program a great idea.

“I find medical subjects interesting,” she says, “and I think it doesn’t hurt to do walking. Any exercise that gets you outside, and in beautiful weather, is a good one.”

Shelleye Warner, a UMC management analyst, discovered the national Walk with a Doc program through a newspaper article and approached her boss to suggest that the hospital create a program here.

“It’s now going on its second year,” she says. The hikes typically attract 20 to 40 people per month.

“And once we build up to more people we hope to do it twice monthly.”

The goal isn’t for participants to clock a specific number of miles each session, Warner says, but, rather, “to get you up and moving.”

Warner recalls one obese participant who, “when I looked him over, I thought, ‘I don’t think he’s going to be able to make it.’ So we stayed behind with him, and it took him an hour but he got through it. He (later) called me and said, ‘Shelleye, I went to the mailbox today.’

“That’s our goal, to get people up and moving and get blood pumping to your heart. Please, live longer, do better, love you.”

Doctors who participate in the sessions have had “really positive” reactions to it, Warner says, and say they enjoy the public outreach opportunity it offers.

“So it’s really nice,” Warner says. “And I think it’s important.”

For most of the year, Walk with a Doc sessions are held at 9:30 a.m. on the third Thursday of the month at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve, 333 S. Valley View Blvd. During May, June, July and August, the walks move to an earlier time, 7 a.m., and a different location, at Lorenzi Park, 3343 W. Washington Ave. No registration is necessary.

This month’s session, to be held Thursday at the Springs Preserve, will feature UMC’s emergency department. For more information, visit the UMC website (www.umcsn.com/walkwithadoc).

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280. Follow JJPrzybys on Twitter.

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