The Cape Cod Healthcare cardiologist is medical director of the Healthy Parks, Healthy People project.

Dr. Elissa ThompsonWhen I was practicing in Washington, D.C., I had to balance a full-time job in one of the most demanding cardiology hospitals in the country while also raising two young children with my husband.

I always had been an outdoors person, but I was not exercising nearly enough. I knew I had to get back in shape for my job, my family and myself.

I had been a runner; but given limited time, I decided to begin walking. At first, it was just for short distances after getting the kids off to school. Soon, I was walking every day – even if it rained or snowed. I discovered new trails around the city.

As I walked, I found myself entering a different state of mind. It was a life-altering, spiritual experience. Soon, I was in the best shape of my life, not only physically, but also mentally. It was surprising to realize that walking was the equal to running. In fact, it was proving better since I rarely suffered strained muscles or joint aches.

My husband decided to join me after he was slowed down by a stress fracture from an elliptical machine. He quickly fell in love with walking as well. It was great to have a walking partner.

While in Washington, D.C., I decided to create an informal walking group among people I met – not necessarily patients. Many were single moms who were suffering from stress and sometimes depression.
That experience made me think: How can I get people engaged in their own physical and spiritual health?

When I moved to Austin, Texas, I decided to create a more formal walking program. There, I had a wonderful environment. Warm weather most of the year, beautiful scenery and open spaces. Every Saturday morning, I would set up a location with water and promote the walks. I would check everyone’s blood pressure and weight as well.

Within a year and a half, there were 200 walkers regularly participating. I would invite guest physicians to join us each weekend. We recruited local businesses, from Starbucks to pharmacies. They would provide everything from coffee (decaffeinated) to water bottles and pedometers.

I measured a two-mile distance and drew sayings every quarter mile such as “my favorite color is...” Walkers would report in and tell me what I had written on the sidewalk to prove they had completed the distances.

It all added to the fun.

When I was recruited by Cape Cod Healthcare, I was very excited of course. But, I felt very sad leaving behind the walking program, along with all the friends and colleagues I met through healthy exercise.

Now, of course, I am ready to help build the Healthy Parks, Healthy People program. It’s a dream come true.

Please join me and my Cape Cod Healthcare colleagues – all part of a summer- and fall-long medical team dedicated to helping you get and stay fit, while savoring the exquisite beauty of Cape Cod National Seashore.