Founded in Columbus in 2005, the Walk With a Doc program puts on events around the world, connecting doctors with their patients. Credit: Courtesy of Bryan Romey | Walk With a Doc

Columbus-based cardiologist David Sabgir told his patients to exercise, but when they didn’t take his advice, he instead gave his patients the opportunity to walk with him.

After about 100 people showed up to walk with Sabgir and his family in a local park in 2005, interest sparked throughout the country from other doctors. This idea turned into “Walk with a Doc” in 2009 — a nonprofit that Encourages physical activity through doctor-led walking groups which provides exercise, health education and social opportunities for more than 500 communities across 47 states and 44 countries, according to its website.

Bryan Romey, program manager for “Walk with a Doc” and an Ohio State alumnus, said the free walks at parks are accessible, and anyone can participate.

“Some people are nervous that it’s going to be too long of a walk, too fast of a walk, but it’s very flexible,” Romey said. “Any age, any ability is welcome, you can walk as short or as long as you want, whatever pace, whatever distance.”

Romey said there are about 10 “Walk with a Doc” programs in Columbus.

The program’s goal was to “encourage physical activity and reduce the effects of a sedentary lifestyle,” according to the organization’s website. Since then, “Walk with a Doc” has evolved to not only include movement and exercise, but also to share the walks with others.

Romey said although “Walk with a Doc” is centered on the health benefits of walking, the walks have a social aspect to them as well.

“The social connection piece has really proved to be the glue that holds our groups together,” Romey said. “People just really enjoy meeting new friends and having that accountability with others.”

For those who could not go outside due to the COVID-19 pandemic or other factors, the organization offers virtual walks that include vaccination education, at-home exercises and tips on going on walks alone, according to its website.

Many of the Columbus programs will relaunch their in-person walks throughout May, after many were forced to go virtual during the pandemic, Romey said. Those interested in joining a walk near them can find a group online

Isabelle Castillo-Anderson, community strategist for the organization and an Ohio State alumna, said she felt immediately welcomed at her first walk. She said the walks have been a great tool for people to connect with one another as pandemic restrictions have lifted.

“It’s been really helpful for communities that we’re working with to have those opportunities to get together with people who you know are also worried about safety, who are also looking to reconnect with people in a safe, accessible environment,” Castillo-Anderson said.

Castillo-Anderson said the doctors will give a short health talk on a topic of their choice before the walk starts. She said these five-to-eight minute informal talks are designed to make the environment more comfortable than a serious office visit.

A person can choose from hundreds of “Walk with a Doc” communities across the world. If an area does not yet have a community, health professionals can start a chapter with the help of a local doctor, according to the organization’s website.

Romey said with pandemic restrictions continuing to lift, he is looking forward to more walks in the future.

“We love that we were born right here in Columbus, so getting our Columbus ‘Walk with a Doc’ programs up and running again, we’re very excited about it,” Romey said.

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