Two Outstanding Doctors: Your Right and Left Legs

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I first met Dr. David Sabgir, a board-certified cardiologist in Ohio, a few years ago. A small reference in Cooking Light magazine to his upstart walking program in Lewis Center, Ohio, piqued my interest. When I contacted Dr. Sabgir, I learned that every Saturday at 8:30 a.m., rain or shine, he heads out on a walk at Highbanks Metropolitan Park in Lewis Center, Ohio, with 175 to 200 patients, neighbors, friends and family members.

Frustration triggered the start of Dr. Sabgir’s walking program six years ago. After unsuccessfully admonishing his patients to lose weight, Dr. Sabgir had a flash of insight. Why not walk with his patients every Saturday morning? With a walking program, he could keep people active and motivated about their health in between doctor visits.

During the walk, patients, along with their family and friends, would have the opportunity to talk with medical professionals to learn how to take care of their health. By becoming more active, patients could alter the course of anticipated heart disease and improve the quality of their lives.
The project quickly became a family affair. Dr. Sabgir’s wife, Kristin, began bringing lower-calorie fare to the walks to demonstrate healthy snacks. Alexandria (age 11) and Charlie (age 9) joined the walks. Dr. Sabgir’s father telephones weekly reminders to participants without access to e-mail.

Other volunteers who joined the effort include nurses who provide free blood-pressure checks, an exercise physiologist who leads and closes the program with appropriate stretches and sponsors who provide free pedometers. Healthy recipes, samples of the recipes and nutritional weight-loss tips are provided each week. Participants can also receive a free one-hour counseling session with a registered dietician.

Dr. Sabgir practices with the Clinical Cardiovascular Specialists at Mount Carmel St. Ann’s Hospital. Through these organized weekly walks, Dr. Sabgir has found a way to encourage healthy physical activity in people of all ages, sizes, shapes, physical conditions, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. Dr. Sabgir is convinced that “If all the benefits of exercise were in ‘pill’ form, the demand would be so high we would never be able to find it or afford it.”

Dr. Sabgir considers the diversity of the walking group to be its strength. He says, “The diversity of the group is most apparent when you see a young mother pushing her newborn in a stroller alongside a couple in their 90s. Both obese walkers and endurance athletes share in the benefit of education and exercise.”

With Ohio’s obesity rate approaching 29 percent, Dr. Sabgir has a big job. His state ranks 13th among the 50 states. Moreover, the numbers on the scales of Ohio citizens-and of the rest of the nation-are heading up. Even more worrisome is the fact that interventions-whether undertaken by medical personnel, private companies or government entities-have yet to reverse the trend. Dr. Sabgir has designed his volunteer efforts to do just that by creating a greater awareness and commitment to health among residents in his community.
Fortunately for us, Dr. Sabgir’s efforts to promote walking haven’t stopped at the borders. Since Dr. Sabgir began his local program, 22 other Ohio communities have begun walking programs and another 45 projects have been started outside Ohio, including one led by Miss Jamaica 2004 in Kingston, Jamaica.

Besides making new friends and having fun, participants learn about the medical benefits of walking. Exercise helps reduce fatigue and stress, aids in weight loss and weight control, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels and improves circulation.
Dr. Sabgir’s philosophy is summarized in a quote from English historian G. M. Trevelyan, “I have two doctors, my left leg and my right.” If you’d like to learn more about the JustWalk program and sign up for the newsletter, contact Dr. Sabgir at david@walkwithadoc.org.

Image credit: o5com on Flickr.