WAYNE, NJ – Since indoor shopping malls came into existence, mall walking has been a popular form of exercise, especially for seniors. “I come here every day to walk,” said Patricia Data who’s been walking at the Willowbrook Mall for “Years. Years and Years,” said Data with a smile.  

Every morning, the mall opens before the stores lift their gates and all are welcome to walk laps down each section of the Willowbrook Mall.  Most come with friends and spouses and catch up on families and each other’s daily lives. 

Myra, who didn’t want to share her last name, said her daily walks were prescribed: “My doctor told me that I needed to walk, because I had gained too much weight and my blood pressure was high, so I come here every day with my husband,” she said while walking at a brisk pace down the quiet mall corridors. “In the beginning, I was all out of breath and I couldn’t do what I do now, because now I walk around the entire mall twice.”  Myra’s here in good weather or bad. “It’s air conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter, so I come every day.” 

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Nancy Barbary, the Senior General Manager for Willowbrook Retail said that the walking program was organized sometime back in the 1980s. “Willowbrook  has always been a big part of the community and this is just another way we can support our customers,” she said with a beaming smile, clearly proud of the program and the people it helps.

In 2017, Chilton Medical Center partnered with the Willowbrook Mall to bring the Walk With A Doc Program as… “A nice extension to our existing mall walker program,” said Barbary.  It allows the walkers to get to meet and ask questions of different physicians they may not necessarily be exposed to.”

Walk With A Doc is a nationwide program which began in 2005 in Columbus, Ohio and has since spread to hundreds of locations. According to the www.WalkWithADoc.Org website: Walk with a Doc was started by Dr. David Sabgir, a cardiologist. Frustrated with his inability to affect behavior change in the clinical setting, Dr. Sabgir invited his patients to go for a walk with him in a local park on a spring Saturday morning. To his surprise, over 100 people showed up, energized and ready to move. Since that first event, Walk with a Doc has grown as a grassroots effort, with a model based on sustainability and simplicity. A doctor gives a brief presentation on a health topic and then leads participants on a walk at their own pace.

Blythe Ulrich, the Program Manager for Community Health for Chilton Medical Center spoke about the program’s success locally: “We come to Willowbrook to do our walk with a doc program the third Wednesday of every month in order to connect members of our community with physicians and get them out of the office and doing physical activity and learning about different health issues.”

“We’ve covered a lot of topics,” said Ulrich “Recently, we’ve really enjoyed having a lot of behavioral health and mental health providers speak at these events. We’ve done Physical Therapists, we’ve had Cardiologists, Pulmonologists, and Primary Care Physicians. Which I think is a really nice sprinkling of topics for the community to learn about.”

This week, Dr. Peter Bolo, a Psychiatrist, and the Chairman for the Department of Psychiatry at Atlantic Health System’s Overlook Medical Center and on-staff at Chilton Medical Center, spoke about Suicide Prevention because September is Suicide Prevention Month.

“This is my first experience with this program,” said Dr. Bolo. “I was invited by the staff at Chilton Medical center who organized the event, and I gave a talk about depression and bi-polar disorder around suicide prevention.” 

According to Dr. Bolo: “The risk and rate of suicides have been increasing.  The largest numbers have been in young adults between fifteen and thirty.  But the frequency of suicide has increased in middle-ages between 45 and 60, then 85 and older.” Dr. Bolo listed psychiatric reasons for the increase, including depression, bi-polar disorder and substance abuse.

After his talk, Dr. Bolo walked a circuit of the mall with the walkers, answering questions and providing encouragement. Then all met back for a raffle drawing for prizes and to say goodbye. 

After the event, Data sat with her friends for coffee and said: “I learned some things today: How to look for signs and just being more aware.” She added: “I try to come to all the Walk with a Doc programs. I love the program, and I wish more people would come to the meetings. I don’t know if they don’t know about it or aren’t interested, but it is interesting every month.” 

Ulrich also enjoyed hearing Dr. Bolo’s talk. “He spoke about mental health and substance abuse disorders, in a way normalizing them; really working to fight the stigma that’s out there on these topics.  Which is an important issue that Chilton is working to address in the community.”

The next Walk With A Doc program date is October 16th at 9:00am at the Willowbrook Mall Food Court.  For more information or to register, call 973-831-5475.