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Amityville physician leading conversation in LI's version of 'Walk with a Doc'

Health coach Lisa Zimmerman with Dr. Donato Balsamo,

Health coach Lisa Zimmerman with Dr. Donato Balsamo, who will participate Sunday in the inaugural LI "Walk with a Doc," a national initiative in which a doctor walks with people and answers questions about health care. The idea is to promote exercise and educate patients. Photo Credit: Anthony J. Causi/Anthony J. Causi

Dr. Donato Balsamo regularly tells his patients how important exercise is to good health. On Sunday, he will lead patients and other residents on a new Long Island version of the international “Walk with a Doc” — to “lead by example.”

“There’s only so much I can do in the office,” said Balsamo, whose practice is in Amityville. “Anything that can get people up and moving and start taking care of themselves outside of the office is helpful.”

Walk with a Doc, which has more than 500 locations in 26 countries, features short talks by doctors on a health topic, followed by walks during which participants can ask health-related questions, said Rachael Habash, chief operating officer for the Ohio-based group, which was founded in 2005.

Balsamo’s inaugural walk, part of a fledgling local Walk with a Doc chapter organized by the Hauppauge-based Long Island Health Collaborative, will be on the last Sunday of the month at the pond in the park next to Babylon Town Hall in Lindenhurst. It is the only one on Long Island since an East Patchogue doctor led a monthly walk for about a year starting in 2016, said Bryan Romey, Walk with a Doc’s program coordinator.

The collaborative, which includes county health departments, hospitals and community groups, established the local chapter because exercise is critical to improving health and walking is "easy to do and it’s accessible," said the collaborative's director, Janine Logan. "You can walk in your neighborhood. You can walk in a park like we’re going to do on Sunday. You can walk up and down your stairs. And it doesn’t cost anything.”

In the long term, walking and other exercise lowers health care costs, because it helps keep people out of the hospital, Logan said.

Balsamo will feature a brief talk about a different health topic each month, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure — diseases and conditions which regular exercise can help prevent or mitigate. Afterward, participants will walk in the park for 30 to 45 minutes, he said.

Dr. Marcel Pintea, whose practice is on Manhattan's Upper West Side, said the Walk with a Doc events he leads give him a chance to talk more casually with patients about topics he may not have time for in a regular appointment.

“There’s just limited time” during an office visit, he said. “There’s always pressure. You don’t want to keep people waiting. This is a more relaxed atmosphere.”

Chatting on a walk builds rapport between doctors and patients, said Dr. Joan Dorn, a professor at the City University of New York School of Medicine in Manhattan and former chief of physical activity and health for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Communicating to patients about their health needs and listening carefully to them is as important a skill for a doctor as medical knowledge, she said.

“If I can’t listen to what they need, it doesn’t matter how much I know,” she said.

Dorn is a faculty mentor with CUNY’s “Walk with a Future Doc” chapter, which has medical students lead walks. It is part of Walk with a Doc. The walks help prepare students to communicate comfortably and confidently with patients, she said.

The New York University Long Island School of Medicine in Mineola, set to begin its inaugural classes July 29, is in the early stages of forming a Walk with a Future Doc chapter, Romey said.

Although the new Lindenhurst walk is the only current Long Island event affiliated with Walk with a Doc, some Long Island physicians have created their own exercise programs.

Boca Raton, Florida-based MDVIP, which has more than 1,000 affiliated doctors nationwide, including 19 on Long Island, encourages its physicians to develop out-of-office exercise programs, including walking, and most do, said Nancy Udell, spokeswoman for the company.

Dr. Andrea Klemes, chief medical officer for the company, said a doctor’s advice to exercise has more impact because it’s followed by an invitation to a walk that he or she leads.

When “their doc says, ‘By the way, come walk with me this weekend,’ then the patient can see, ‘Wow the doc really does this, too. He means it. And so I’ll do this for them and for me and for my health.’ ”

WALK WITH A DOC

What: Dr. Donato Balsamo will briefly talk about type-2 diabetes and then lead a walk for 30 to 45 minutes.

Where: The pond at the park next to Babylon Town Hall, 200 E. Sunrise Highway, Lindenhurst. Meet at the walkway leading to Town Hall’s main entrance.

When: 10 a.m. Sunday.

Walk with a Doc’s “100 Reasons to Walk": walkwithadoc.org/why-walk

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