Kennedy: When your doctor tells you to 'take a hike'

photo Dr. David Sabgir

If you go

The next walks are at 7 a.m. on Nov. 3 and 30 and at 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 17. Walks start on the Cherry Street side of the Walnut Street Bridge.

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David Sabgir was a newly certified cardiologist in 2004 when he had a random idea.

Sabgir was seeing a patient in Columbus, Ohio, when he asked her a question that would change his life, and ultimately alter the lives of thousands.

"I said, 'Our family goes to the park every Saturday morning. Would you have any interest in joining us?"' Sabgir recalls.

Sabgir says he had grown weary of advising sedentary patients - mostly unsuccessfully - to become active. And so, on impulse, he made it personal.

By the spring of 2005, Sabgir had convinced dozens of patients to join him on the Saturday morning walks, which turned into impromptu health seminars.

From that small seed has grown a national movement called Walk with a Doc. It involves 2,500 to 3,000 physicians in 276 communities and, in the last 10 years, thousands of patients have joined the walks. It's a process that is changing the physician/patient relationship one step at a time, if you'll pardon the pun.

The idea is simple, really.

Outside the white-coat office environment where so many health exams take place, doctors and patients can enjoy the fresh air and get to know one another as people.

In Chattanooga, Erlanger hospital sponsors a Walk with a Doc program led by Dr. Alison Bailey, a cardiologist who meets patients and others to walk periodically on the Walnut Street Bridge.

Bailey, an expert in cardiovascular education, says there is a core group of about six people who regularly join her for these walks, although the pack sometimes grows to a dozen.

"I love it," Bailey says. "We have a great time."

Bailey says she spends the first five minutes of each gathering talking about a health topic pulled from the news headlines, and then leads a walk that also doubles as a Q&A session. Sabgir says this is typically how things unfold.

The Walk with a Doc program is the subject of a short documentary, "Alternate Route," co-produced by Kimberly Field-Springer, a faculty member at Berry College in Rome, Ga.

Field-Springer did her doctoral research on Walk with a Doc and produced the video as an extension of her dissertation. She says over and over she encountered patients who bonded with their doctors on the walks.

"A lot of them say they feel more relaxed in an atmosphere where they are seen as human beings first," Field-Springer says.

Ultimately, the payoff for patients is improved health, Sabgir says. He says walking is the original wonder drug, capable of treating or preventing more than 50 diseases. Sabgir has a little pad he uses to write patients' "prescriptions" for walking.

"Exercise is the best medicine, it's very true," Sabgir says. "It's the most powerful drug anyone could ever take.

"It would save tens of billions of dollars every year if every American were out there doing this," he says. "It's estimated that 85 percent of Americans are getting little or no activity. And 98 percent aren't getting the 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise that's recommended."

Contact Mark Kennedy at or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at