By Joe Yuhas

[Note: This article appeared in the Late Fall 2013 Newsletter. The full newsletter can be viewed in this pdf document]

According to Peggy Belanger RN, who is Cancer Care Coordinator and Oncology Nurse Navigator at Southern Maine Medical Center (SMMC), access to the Eastern Trail contributes greatly to the programs that she administers. The mere fact that the trail is in such close proximity to the medical center campus encourages creativity and innovation in programing for patients.

Peggy described “Walk Away From Cancer,” which utilizes the trail for the exercise component of the program. This program was specifically designed for both recently diagnosed patients and patients currently in treatment to provide them with the opportunity to develop a sustained regimen of beneficial exercise. The program meets two times a week for six weeks, and in addition to exercise it has educational and a nutritional components and serves as a support group. Groups meet in the spring and fall and walk the trail at their own pace in small groups that facilitate sharing and support, thus fostering a very important social contribution to recovery.

With the trail head at the rear of the SMMC parking lot, the participants can conveniently walk in a safe shaded area and enjoy fresh air and the ET’s natural environment. By eliminating barriers to participation in exercise, patients experience success, which in turn promotes ongoing participation and leads to continuing lifelong healthy habits. The program, now completing its first year, was partially funded by a grant from the Maine Cancer Foundation. Few hospitals are sited in such a favorable location and that factor must have been a positive influence to award the grant to SMMC.

For three years now the SMMC “Be Healthy” 5K Run/Walk has utilized the ET, and its proceeds have helped support SMMC’s Center for Breast Care. Hosting this community event is a natural, and logistics are simplified with the convenient access to the ET at the rear of the campus. The event also dovetails nicely with the hospital’s mission of encouraging health and fitness in its patients, employees and the community in general.

In a recent survey, nearly one third of the employees based at the medical center’s Biddeford location reported using the Eastern Trail for exercise and recreation, with walking and cycling the two most frequent uses. The trail extending to Kennebunk also provides an opportunity for many to use it as a commuting route to work, providing both economic and health benefits while reducing carbon emissions to the atmosphere.

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