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Published on July 09, 2018

Make nature walks your workout

Make nature walks your workout

Instead of hitting the gym or working out at home this summer, what about walking scenic trails of Cape Cod National Seashore on a regular basis?

If you’re a Cape resident, you might be given a “prescription” by your doctor to do just that, under a collaboration between Cape Cod Healthcare and the National Seashore called Healthy Parks, Healthy People. But you don’t need a physician referral or a home on the Cape to participate. Everyone is welcome.

“We want to show how easy and how pleasurable it can be to exercise,” said Elissa Thompson, MD, a Hyannis cardiologist and medical director of the Cape program, now in its fourth year.

It is part of a nationwide effort by the National Park Service to utilize public lands to encourage healthy lifestyle choices and boost appreciation of parks’ ability to enhance physical, mental and spiritual well-being.

This year, Cape Cod Healthcare has added vascular surgeons to the cardiologists and internists who compose the cadre of local physicians writing program prescriptions for their patients for whom outdoor exercise would be safe and beneficial, Dr. Thompson said. She recommends that everyone get 45 minutes of exercise daily. Regular exercise can boost cardiovascular health, fight obesity and lower cholesterol, as well as improve mood and reduce the risk or severity of a host of ills.

Cape residents and tourists may join the program this summer by visiting the Seashore’s Salt Pond Visitor Center in Eastham between 8 and 11 a.m. weekdays. There, at the program’s base camp, they can register and receive trail guides and health information, and have healthcare professionals record their blood pressure, BMI (Body Mass Index), height and weight. They can also pick up a program passport in which to tally their walks and have those hikes certified.

First And Only Park

According to Courtney Anne Butler, assistant to the superintendent of the National Seashore, the park is the first and only one in the National Park Service so far to partner with a healthcare organization for the Healthy Parks, Healthy People program. Park rangers and staff are trained to promote health and wellness, she said. Park staff have participated in the program and will do so again this year, she added.

Under the blanket of Healthy Parks, Healthy People, National Seashore staff will be holding talks and classes this summer, including yoga on the beach and nature journaling. Although the park charges summer beachgoers for parking, no one participating in Healthy Parks, Healthy People activities will be charged, Butler said.

Dr. Thompson described Healthy Parks, Healthy People as “progressively expanding.” According to Butler, during the past three years of the partnership with CCHC, 361 people registered for the program, most of whom were between the ages of 60 and 79. Of these, 62 percent were female and 38 percent were male. Participants have been evenly divided between Cape and off-Cape residents, she said.

Pick Your Trail Level

Healthy Parks, Healthy People has selected three easy trails and two moderate trails for program participants.

Easy trails

  • Pilgrim Spring, North Truro
  • Small’s Swamp, North Truro
  • Beech Forest, Provincetown

Other easy National Seashore Trails:

  • Fort Hill, Eastham
  • Nauset Marsh Loop, Eastham
  • Doane Trail, Eastham
  • Buttonbush Trail, Eastham

Moderate trails:

  • Nauset Marsh Trail to and from Coast Guard Beach, Eastham
  • Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail, Wellfleet

Other moderate National Seashore Trails:

  • Red Maple Swamp, Eastham
  • Pamet Cranberry Bog, Truro

A National Seashore trail rated difficult:

  • Great Island, Wellfleet

“There are many trails – 47 at the National Seashore,” Dr. Thompson said. “We chose a variety of lengths. All are well-groomed for safety purposes. They are very accessible to any ability.”

Couch To 5K

This year the program will host an end-of-the-season 5-kilometer walk/run on September 22 that will start and end at Nauset Regional High School. It is the second year for the event.

“People have rallied around that,” Dr. Thompson said. “We’re definitely expecting more participants this year.”

She added that several fellow physicians and “my whole family” will join her in the race.

To help people prepare over the summer for event, Cape Cod Healthcare has created a self-directed nine-week training course, called Couch to 5K, for runners and an eight-week course for walkers, Dr. Thompson said.

The forests, dunes, beaches and ocean vistas of the National Seashore make the prospect of working out attractive instead of a duty, she said.

“Doing exercise in a place that’s pleasing – it’s just an added plus,” Dr. Thompson said. “Getting fresh air and being out in nature is a motivating factor.”

The park relaxes people, Dr. Thompson said.

“We have this beautiful spot that we sometimes forget is right in our backyard,” Dr. Thompson said.