Above: Left to right, Emory nurses Vani Manoharan and Joy Bailey, along with Rachel Waldron, Dunwoody recreation program supervisor, lead the way at the Walk with a Doc at Brook Run Park in Dunwoody. All photos courtesy of TGA Communications, LLC.

Here’s some information about heart disease that may surprise you: “The number one risk factor for women and heart disease is diabetes,” said Dr. Gina Lundberg at a recent ‘Walk with a Doc’ program held at Dunwoody’s Brook Run Park.

Gina Price Lundberg, M.D., Associate Professor of Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, promoted walking by leading the early Saturday morning session — and shared information about heart-healthy living with her fellow walkers.

Gina P. Lundberg, M.D., Emory Heart & Vascular Center, Medical Director, Women’s Cardiovascular (right with Emory cap) hands out heart-healthy recipes among the walkers.

There is no charge for the Walk with a Doc program, which is led by personable physicians who help their local communities. The doctors provide credible health information before, during and after an invigorating walk.

Each monthly walk features a physician and a theme. Lundberg’s message for February focused on women and heart disease. The Dunwoody Parks and Recreation Department and program partner Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital offer Walk with a Doc participants a chance to take active steps toward better health.

Dunwoody’s program began last fall.

When Rachel Waldron, Dunwoody recreation supervisor, learned about Atlanta Beltline’s Walk with a Doc, she said she could easily visualize the program for Dunwoody’s Brook Run Park.

“There is a 1.8-mile path for walkers at Brook Run that we thought would fit right into this idea,” Waldron said.

The local version quickly became reality.

Connecting Heart Disease and Diabetes

About two-thirds of those with diabetes die of a heart or blood vessel disease — not diabetes, according to research studies. That’s because “over time, high blood glucose from diabetes can damage your blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart,” according to the National Institutes of Health.

Emory nurse Vani Manoharan checks some of the walkers’ blood pressures.

In fact, for adults with diabetes, the most common causes of death are heart disease and stroke, agrees the American Heart Association: “At least 68 percent of people age 65 or older with diabetes die from some form of heart disease; and 16 percent die of stroke.”

“With women, we have a little stress test that men don’t have,” Lundberg revealed to her Saturday walkers. “If you’ve been pregnant and had high blood pressure, even at the end of the pregnancy — or had gestational diabetes or a 9-pound baby — those can become risks for heart disease later,” she said.

“Tell your primary care doctor,” Lundberg told her audience. “Be sure to let your doctors know [that you know] these things are very important.”

It is especially critical for people with diabetes to learn all they can about heart disease, Lundberg says.

Walk with a Doc History

The original Walk with a Doc program started in 2005. Dr. David Sabgir, a cardiologist in Columbus, Ohio, was frustrated with his inability to affect patient behavior change in the clinical setting and invited his patients to go for a walk with him in a local park on a spring Saturday morning, according to the organization’s website, walkwithadoc.org.

To his surprise, more than 100 people showed up that day. And they were “energized [to learn] and ready to move,” the website says.

Today Sabgir’s walking program extends around the globe with more than 300 chapters worldwide. It makes good sense, as walking is one of the simplest ways people can incorporate exercise into their lives, according to sources that include the Mayo Clinic.

“Exercise is medicine,” state the experts at Harvard Health Publishing.

“I do think of [exercise] as medicine, and even better, it’s medicine that’s free and has very few side effects,” said Dr. I-Min Lee in a Harvard Health Letter published in 2014. Lee, a professor at Harvard Medical School, studies the role of physical activity in preventing disease and promoting health.

A major goal with the Walk with a Doc program is to encourage community members to get off their couches. All ages are encouraged to begin a healthier course of exercise with their neighbors.

Winship oncologist Stephen Szabo, M.D., launched Dunwoody’s first Walk with a Doc program at Brook Run along with Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute. The monthly event requires no fee for membership and encourages participants to ask questions while walking with a physician.

As one walker said during the September Szabo walk, “It’s much less intimidating than being in a clinical setting [like a doctor’s office].”

Judi Kanne is a public health communications consultant and contributing writer to Atlanta Senior Life.