Dr. Elissa Thompson, a cardiologist with Cape Cod Healthcare, is a Naragansett, Rhode Island, native who grew up spending her summers in Dennis. She is one of Cape Cod Healthcare’s first in-house cardiologists at its Hyannis facility, and she also directs Cape Cod Hospital’s cardiac rehabilitation program. “To think that someday I’d be a cardiologist on Cape Cod—it’s like a dream,” says Dr. Thompson.
She’s practiced cardiology in one of the most demanding hospitals in the country in Washington, D.C., and also in Austin, Texas, and spearheaded a program in both cities that started when she began to take walks.
Balancing her profession and raising two young children with her husband in D.C., the only exercise Dr. Thompson had time for was walking. But walking changed her life. “As I walked, I found myself entering a different state of mind,” she says.
Dr. Thompson created an informal walking group in D.C., and when she moved to Austin she brought the concept with her. There, she created a more formal group that consisted of up to 200 members. She would take people’s blood pressure and weight so they could monitor their progress as they walked. “One person lost 20 pounds, another lost 30 pounds, in a three-month period,” says Dr. Thompson, adding that the average blood pressure dropped by more than 20 points.
It’s no surprise, then, that when the National Parks Service contacted Cape Cod Healthcare to take part in its “Healthy Parks, Healthy People” initiative, Cape Cod Healthcare chose Dr. Thompson to lead the project.
“Healthy Parks, Healthy People,” started in 2011 by the parks service, “to reframe the role of parks and public lands as an emerging, powerful health prevention strategy.” In celebration of the National Parks Service’s centennial this year, Dr. Thompson continued her walking program at the Cape’s most precious natural resource: the National Seashore.
Over the summer, a “base camp” was set up at the Seashore’s Salt Pond Visitor Center in Eastham. There, walkers could sign up, learn about the five trails designated for the program, have blood pressure and Body Mass Index (BMI) taken, and receive a personalized passport to record walking distances. “The communities around the area are very supportive of the project,” says Dr. Thompson. “What we want to do is raise awareness of it. We have beautiful natural resources that we can use for wellness.”