The early morning air was chill but spirits high as about 50 people marked the American Heart Association’s National Walking Day with a two-mile saunter Wednesday around Eisenhower Park in East Meadow.
Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano kicked off the walk that was led by Nassau Health Commissioner Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein and Suffolk Health Commissioner Dr. James L. Tomarken and sponsored by the Long Island Health Collaborative.
As part of a state mandate, the collaborative includes representatives from Long Island’s 24 hospitals, both county health departments, academic centers and community groups, which began meeting more than three years ago to focus on the most pressing local health problems.
That appears to be chronic diseases, including obesity, diabetes and heart disease, according to preliminary results from a survey the collaborative took in February of about 100 community-based organizations of the top health concerns.
In Nassau, 26 percent of respondents cited chronic diseases as the No. 1 issue, while in Suffolk almost 31 percent cited them. Second on the list was mental health problems, cited by 23 percent in Nassau and nearly 30 percent in Suffolk.
Walking is a good, cheap way to prevent or combat many of those issues, said Eisenstein and Tomarken.
Part of the collaborative’s agenda is to work with health care providers to convince more patients to walk for their health.
Nassau Legis. Rose Walker (R-Hicksville) needed no convincing. She was there with 8-month-old grandson Brady bundled in a stroller, as was neighbor and friend Brian McKee, 39, of Hicksville.
Three years ago, McKee, then an NYPD officer, suffered a massive heart attack after training for a race. The father of three young children and currently a liaison in the county parks department, he said he’s even more conscious of his health than he was before the heart attack.
“Now I walk a lot,” he said.
So does Rita Batheja, a registered dietitian in private practice in Baldwin Harbor. Hoofing it with Nancy Copperman, also a registered dietitian and director of public health initiatives in Northwell Health’s Office of Community Health, Batheja said she walks 3 1/2 miles a day.
Asked why she had joined Wednesday’s event, she said: “I want to set an example for my patients and fellow workers.”
And so she did.