TRURO – Frances Carrigan and Paul McLellan know firsthand just how beneficial walking can be.
Two years ago, Carrigan and McLellan became regulars at the Walk with a Doc program, led by Dr. Stephen Ellis. When Carrigan began, she couldn’t walk a full lap around the Rath Eastlink Community Centre’s (RECC) walking track.
“Now, I have to sometimes rest in between, but I can keep going,” said Carrigan.
It was her problems with walking that saw Carrigan join Ellis and other residents participate in the program over the last two years. McLellan was in a different boat – he wanted to lose some weight.
“I’m walking a bit better now,” said McLellan. “I’m a long-haul truck driver and when I first started, I’d walk seven, eight, nine laps and go home sore. Now, I can walk 30, 35 laps.”
The duo is just two of anywhere between 30 and 50 people walking every Saturday through the program, except for a break over the summer months.
Ellis, a doctor for 23 years, created the program in Truro after identifying a need in the community.
“We needed to get people more active,” Ellis said, who has been a family doctor in Truro for the past 19 years. “The first person I went to was Raj (Makkar) and he said ‘let’s do it’, and then I approached Matt Moore (general manager of the RECC). It was as simple as that. We wanted to engage the community to be more active.”
Saturday mornings, starting at 8:30, the public is welcome to join in on the program for an hour. It starts with a short talk on a health topic – something Ellis or another doctor has recently read, something that’s common, or something that’s new, for example.
“Then comes the hardest part – we walk,” said Ellis. “Participants can ask health-related questions, and talk about general things.”
In creating the program, Ellis said he wanted to keep things simple. He wanted other doctors to participate, especially when he wouldn’t be available, but he didn’t want them to have to attend meetings, and didn’t want a board of directors running things.
“The mandate is that a physician has to be here. If I can’t be here, there are specific doctors I call. There are three to four doctors here on a regular basis. To me, that’s the real easy part, to keep it simple,” the doctor said.
To have doctors available on a weekly basis, at no cost, is something both Carrigan and McLellan are thankful for.
“I can’t impress upon the fact that they do this on their own time, for the benefit of everybody,” said McLellan. “They’re forfeiting their time for the community.”
“It’s time they could spend with their family, but instead their giving it to the community,” added Carrigan.
Because of the success of the program, Ellis was recognized recently with an award through Doctors Nova Scotia. He was presented with the Physician Health Promotion Award last month for developing the program, which came as a surprise.
“We all have a responsibility in our local communities to give back, and this is one of the ways I do that,” he said. “Realistically, because of the way it was developed, I give an hour of my time a week. If I can influence the health of the public, that’s powerful. That’s the reward.”
The doctor is hoping to see the program expand in the local area once more doctors are on board. Other programs have started in the province, or will soon start – in Halifax and Cape Breton, and a pediatrician from Saskatchewan has also been in contact with Ellis about starting a program.