The Park And Your Health

News // October 14, 2020

A Conversation With Jeffrey Vakil, MD

With the Prophecy Creek in the upper Wissahickon Watershed practically in his yard, Dr. Jeffrey Vakil is  a regular on the nearby trails, but the FOW member also loves exploring new trails in the Wissahickon Valley Park  with his wife, their two daughters, and their pair of dogs. Dr. Vakil, a Premier Orthopaedics surgeon, specializes in primary and revision hip and knee joint replacement at Chestnut Hill Hospital. He is a graduate of Jefferson Medical College and  completed his orthopaedic residency at Drexel University School of Medicine. He then took a Joint Reconstruction fellowship at Johns Hopkins University, where he learned the anterior approach to hip replacement surgery. He is currently one of only a handful of surgeons in the Philadelphia region using this innovative, minimally invasive approach to hip replacement,  performing this procedure more than 1,200 times over the last 11 years.  

Chestnut Hill Hospital is the proud presenting sponsor of FOW’s 5th Annual All Trails Challenge. Whether you’re taking  the Challenge this year, or simply wanting to spend more time in the Wissahickon, Dr. Vakil provides the following tips for a safe workout: 

What is the most common cause of exercise injuries when you’re out on the trail? 

Certainly, working out beyond your skill and condition level can lead to problems, but from an orthopedic standpoint,  stretching and warming up are key to building stamina and avoiding injury. Stretching for a few minutes before exercising  gets blood flowing to muscles, which primes them for the upcoming activity and reduces the risk of pulls or tears.  Therefore, make this essential practice a habit, no matter what  your fitness level.  

Stretching all the muscle groups in your legs—-your calf  muscles, hamstrings, knees, quadriceps—-as well as the inner thigh and groin areas—-is especially important if you’re walking or running. Strengthen and get the blood flowing in your arms  with a few simple windmills and don’t forget to warm up your lower back with side- and backbends. (There are a variety  of video resources online that demonstrate how to properly perform these simple warm-up routines.) End your workout session by slowly repeating the warm-up movements for a gentle cooldown. 

How can I avoid doing too much, too soon? 

If you are new to or have been away from exercising, start slow, with just a half mile to a mile and work your way up.  The rule of thumb is to do one 30-minute activity or a few five-minute walks per day. Your goal is to increase metabolic activities for your muscles, joints, and bones, as well as your heart, and to decrease sitting time, which is extraordinarily important. It’s best to start out on a flat, even surface like Forbidden Drive. Listen to your body. If it hurts when you do something, stop. If you experience significant soreness the next day, you probably overdid it. And don’t forget to hydrate with water, and lots of it; it’s a fundamental component of any fitness regimen.  

From an orthopedic surgeon’s perspective, what accessories can increase stability on the trails?  

I tell my patients that comfort and stability are important safety assets. Proper, well-fitting shoes can enhance endurance  and footing (pun intended!) to avoid injury. Be sure to wear lightweight, supportive footwear that is suited to your feet.  For example, for my patients with flatfoot deformities, I recommend orthotic inserts. Also, wear the right shoes for the right terrain—-my family and I own both trail and hiking shoes.  To gain even more stability, consider buying walking poles,  which can assist with balance, especially on rocky or uneven trails.

What should I know about wearing a mask and exercising in the Wissahickon? 

The guidelines about masks in the park are the same as anywhere else: when in public settings around other people who are not in your family, wearing a mask is essential. So is wearing it properly—-I can’t emphasize enough that it must cover your nose and mouth, not hang on your chin or around your neck. If you and your group are alone on a trail, you can remove the mask, but put it back on if someone approaches.  Of course, stay six feet apart from people you don’t live with or who aren’t part of your “bubble”—-be considerate and share the trail. And, if you’re feeling ill, skip the park visit.  Regular physical activity should be a part of everyone’s life. Any activity is better than none at all. The spectacular Wissahickon is a great place to get moving. 

Did you know?

You can get started on the All Trails Challenge TODAY at  – and if you raise $50 or more before Monday, October 19th you can win a limited-edition Fingerspan Bridge Shirt!