On Saturdays, doctors from South Denver Cardiology trade out their white coats for baseball hats, t-shirts and sneakers.
They meet up with patients and other community members in the northwest corner of the parking lot at the South Denver Heart Center in Littleton. Then, together, they all go for a walk.
Since October 2018, South Denver Cardiology has been holding these events through the national organization Walk with a Doc, which aims to inspire communities through movement and conversation with physician-led walking groups.
“You don’t have to be our patient; it's open to everyone,” said cardiologist Ira Dauber, who started the South Denver Cardiology chapter after seeing the event hosted by a colleague at National Jewish Health in Denver. “We walk and we talk and we just sort of like to show everybody that exercise is good — we’ll tell you why. Exercise is easy — we’ll show you how. And exercise is safe at many levels of ability.”
Snacks, education and exercise
The South Denver Cardiology walks take place the first Saturday of every month from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Before the walk, staff members arrive to set up snacks, coffee, a sign-in table and a station for free blood pressure checks, according to business development and marketing manager Randy Cupps.
After the walkers mingle and have some food, the physician leading the walk gives a short informal talk about a health topic.
“We have some serious topics, like what are of the signs of a heart attack and, you know, should you take aspirin and should you get vaccinated,” Dauber said. “But we also try to do diet, exercise, healthy lifestyle — we try to make it fun and lightweight.”
Once the health talk is finished, the group sets off for an out-and-back walk, which can be up to two miles long.
“We walk off our property and take a little trail that connects us to the High Line Canal,” Cupps said. “So pretty much 90% of our walk is along the High Line Canal… People don't have to do the whole two miles, they can do half of it and turn around so they can do it at their own pace.”
Diet and exercise are important medications for any heart disease, Dauber said. Outside of heart disease, exercise can help a person manage Type II diabetes, improve cholesterol levels and better mental health, according Rachael Habash, chief operating officer at Walk with a Doc.
“There's so many diseases and ailments that can be prevented or even healed from participating in regular physical activity,” Habash said.
According to South Denver Cardiology’s website, some research shows that a person could gain two hours of life for each hour that they exercise regularly.
Walk with a Doc has more than 500 locations across the world in 46 states and 34 different countries, according to its website. While some chapters are led by practices like South Denver Cardiology, others are led by single practitioners, hospital systems or community agencies, Habash said.
In addition to the physical and educational benefits of the program, Habash added that the walks have a positive social impact on their participants. Just like in any group, the walkers form connections with each other, she said.
The events also personalize healthcare for patients who join the walks.
“A physician is no longer there with their white coat, treating a set of symptoms,” she said. “They’re there in their baseball cap and sneakers, they’re a human being as well, right? And so we're learning about each other's hobbies and families and dogs... It's really humanizing that healthcare experience.”
For Dauber, the program is important because it teaches patients how to have a healthy lifestyle.
“I think it really shows that you know, taking care of your heart health takes place outside of the hospital and the office,” Dauber said. “I think probably the most important thing is we teach people you can do this yourself.”
People can sign up for upcoming walks with South Denver Cardiology at https://southdenver.com/walk-with-a-doc/. Other metro Denver Walk with a Doc chapters include National Jewish Health and Dr. Kyle Knuppel at Blue Heron Park in Littleton.