The Park and Your Health

Nature // July 31, 2017

A Conversation with Dr. Marc McKenna, M.D., Chestnut Hill Hospital

Dr. McKenna is a family medicine physician at Chestnut Hill Hospital and a long-time FOW member who has always had a love for the outdoors. You may see him riding his bike to the hospital for work, or walking across the field at an outdoor sporting event to tend to a player. In addition to being a board-certified family medicine physician, he has advanced training in sports medicine. Dr. McKenna is the primary care sports medicine physician for LaSalle University and a medical consultant for Arcadia University. He has also served as the player physician for national golf and tennis tournaments recently held in our area, and is a clinical associate professor of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and chief of the division of family practice at Chestnut Hill Hospital

Q. You’re a family doctor with a wide range of patients. Are your patients who spend time in the park healthier than those who do not?

A. The park is a great resource for my patients. One of the strongest medicines I prescribe is exercise and being outdoors. There is no place that is more convenient and beautiful.

Q. Friends of the Wissahickon’s All Trails Challenge will begin in August and we’re encouraging our members and supporters to hike, bike, walk, or ride their horse on all 50 miles in the park. What advice do you have for people before they set out on a large-scale goal like that? What’s the best way to prepare for that kind of endeavor?

A. In getting ready for any athletic event it is important to train. Start slowly, pace yourself, and make sure that you are healthy enough to undertake this type of activity. It might mean checking with your doctor first to make sure that this level of exercise would be safe.

Q. Let’s face it, the heat and humidity of summer in Philadelphia can be brutal. How can people protect themselves during the summer heat while enjoying the park?

A. One of the advantages of the park is that with the shade it is not as hot as running on asphalt. Temperature can still be a concern, so it is important to wear a hat, stay hydrated, and don’t overdo it. Remember that there is a water fountain available near the Valley Green Inn.

Q. The Wissahickon is lush during the summer months and users can encounter ticks and poison ivy. What steps should people take to protect themselves?

A. When you are outdoors in the woods it is important to realize that you can be exposed to both poison ivy and tick-borne illnesses. First of all, stay on the trails and out of the foliage. If possible, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants for protection. Be able to recognize and steer clear of the three leaves of poison ivy plants and always check for ticks after your visit.

Q. How did you become familiar with Wissahickon Valley Park?

A. I first became familiar with Wissahickon Valley Park in 1980 right after I moved to Mt. Airy.  Forbidden Drive became a favorite place for me to run. This soft gravel surface was an ideal place to train and run each season of the year. I loved the summer weather when the canopy of trees and the adjoining creek kept temperature and humidity bearable. As summer gave way to fall the color of the trees was stunning. Even in the winter it was cool to run there, and with no lesions on the trees, to be able to really appreciate the topography of the valley. Spring was also special with the blooming of the plants and trees and the opening of trout fishing season.

Q. Do you have a favorite location in the park? Why?

A. I guess Valley Green would have to be my favorite part of the park. It is often the starting place and finish for many runs and bike rides, but also it is where I took my kids and now grandkids to feed the ducks. I have also been to weddings, anniversary parties, and birthday celebrations at Valley Green Inn.

Q. What’s your favorite way to experience the Wissahickon?

A. My favorite way to experience the Wissahickon now is to run the trails and explore the woods. My favorite day there is Christmas Day because it has become a tradition with my two daughters that we go for a run in the park on that day. It is amazing, but we often see the same people on Forbidden Drive there every year.

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