On a recent crisp, cool Wednesday, seven health-conscious individuals met at Munster's Centennial Park for an invigorating walk down the park's circular lakeside path.
It wasn't just an average daily walk for exercise. It was part of the Walk with a Doc program presented by Franciscan Health. Walk with a Doc is a program that allows participants to take a walk with a medical professional and ask health-related questions during the exercise.
"This is a national program that started in 2005 in Ohio," said Becky Tilton, community health improvement coordinator at Franciscan Health. She said the program, which was instituted by a cardiologist, is now in 46 states.
The Walk with a Doc program is part of Franciscan's Medical Minute campaign. Walks take place every other Wednesday. The program is held in Crown Point and Munster. The Munster walks were started in September while the Crown Point walks have been presented since May. All walks are free and open to the community.
Tilton said the program's mission is to "educate, (promote) exercise and empower."
"We want to help decrease a sedentary lifestyle and want to get people out walking," she said.
Tilton was on hand at the recent Munster walk where she checked in walkers, handed out health information, water and a healthy snack bar. She also monitored the participants' time as they walked around the path three times. The walk was a little over a mile in length.
Different doctors take part in every walk and they all have different specialties. On the Munster walk, Dr. Robert Prock, a radiation oncologist at Franciscan Health, joined the walkers on the jaunt around the lake. Tilton said they've invited doctors who were specialists in family medicine, pediatrics, podiatry and other disciplines to participate in the event. Nurse practitioners and fitness instructors also have walked.
Prock said he was happy to participate. "It's a nice perk (for individuals) to get some health information," he said. "And it's good to get out and be healthy."
The doctor said he was open to talking about anything. He said the leisurely walk outdoors makes it conducive to people feeling comfortable and not being afraid to ask questions.
"I am a walker," Prock said, adding it was something he's long enjoyed. "And I love talking," he laughed. He added he was open to talking about anything, even the "Cubs, Bears and college football playoffs."
Prior to the walk, Prock gave a five minute talk about the importance of various cancer screenings, including those for breast cancer, colon, cervical and lung cancer.
Participants asked him questions about the different screenings for early detection and also about various cancer risks. "Everybody needs screenings regardless of family history or anything else," Prock stressed.
During the walk, the doctor said he was a cancer survivor himself and had lymphoma 27 years ago.
Jo Ellen Huppenthal, of Crown Point, and Rose Brichta, a former Valparaiso resident who was visiting from Texas, participated in the Munster walk.
"I learned about this at a Franciscan Health Fair," said Huppenthal, who is a retired medical technician. "I love to walk," she said, adding it was also a fun activity. Brichta, also a retired medical technician, said she found the activity rewarding.
Schererville residents Dennis and Karen Daniel have taken part in the Crown Point and Munster walks.
"It's great to be out in nature," Dennis Daniel said. "We walk all the time," he said, adding he's seen positive change in his health because of the exercise. Karen Daniel said it's also nice to "meet new people" through the program. The couple added it's very interesting to be able to ask the doctors questions and just to converse with them is nice.
Schererville's Norm Huppert said he also attends both the Munster and Crown Point walks and has found them beneficial.
"Unfortunately in March, I found out my blood sugars were elevated. So, this was perfect timing (to participate in the walks)," Huppert said. Huppert, who belongs to a health club, said the walks were an additional way for him to exercise.