LITHIA - For the past year and a half, Max Rattes has encouraged his patients and others in his community to take their first steps toward a healthier lifestyle.
Rattes, a cardiologist with practices in Riverview and Plant City, has spearheaded the Lithia chapter of the national Walk with a Doc program.
He first read about the program in an American College of Cardiology newsletter.
"The response has been very enthusiastic," Rattes said. Each outing attracts an average of 20 to 30 people.
The Lithia chapter meets the last Saturday of every month - including today - at 9 a.m. at Alderman's Ford Park, 100 Alderman's Ford Park Road. Rattes said the group typically walks along a 1.8-mile trail at the park, but participants also are welcome to utilize a different trail or walk a shorter distance.
Each walk is preceded by a 10 to 15 minute talk given by a health care professional.
"We gather at the park and we talk about how to maintain the heart," said Gattes, who also answers pedestrians' health-related questions during the walk. "People have very good questions."
Walk with a Doc was established in 2005 by Columbus, Ohio-based physician David Sagbir and quickly grew throughout the country. Today there are Walk with a Doc programs in 25 states - including four in Florida - as well as Canada, Russia and Australia.
Rattes says the benefits of walking are plentiful.
"It reduces the risk of blood disease; it helps maintain your body weight and it enhances your mental well being," he said.
According to the American Heart Association, walking has the lowest dropout rate among any physical activity. Walking is also a relatively low-impact exercise, with minimal stress on joints.
"It also reduces the risk of depression," Rattes said. "People feel happier when they're walking outside."
Walk with Doc in Lithia is a free event, but there is a $2 fee per car for admission to Alderman's Ford Park.
For information, call (813) 752-3456