Geoff McGowenA 2012 study by the CDC on workplace wellness and the Affordable Care Act found that “the health of the individual is inseparable from the health of the community.” Few sentences could better sum up the personal philosophy of nurse practitioner Geoffrey McGowen, who not only encourages preventative care with his patients and in his community work, but also in his own life outside of work.

The same CDC study noted that wellness activities like walking clubs, stress management, yoga, smoking cessation, and weight reduction “have the capacity to create a sense of community, improve morale and productivity.” The study authors cited a wellness program enacted at Georgetown University that involved a weekly 4-mile hike to the National Mall for employees and community residents that involved not only individual exercise, but community building and social activity.

Through his work as a travel nurse and nursing provider in rural areas throughout the Southeast, Geoffrey has seen first hand how community and medicine go hand in hand, and how quality care can make a positive impact at the local, state, and regional level. He also fell in love with the beautiful Smokey Mountains, and began hiking and camping as a way to not only explore the great outdoors, but as a means to practice the regular physical activity and self-care he recommends to his patients.

Hiking is not only aerobic exercise that stimulates the cardiovascular system, it can be a meditative practice that relieves stress and reduces distraction. Hiking with friends is not only safer than hiking alone, it can be a great opportunity to make a new friend, stay accountable for wellness goals, and explore the area in which you live. Websites like are a great way to find other outdoor enthusiasts in your area who might enjoy anything from a gentle nature walk to a strenuous hike, depending on your experience and ability. Even strolling in urban arboretums or doing gentle yoga in city parks can offer new ways to combine exercise, nature, and community engagement.

Chattanooga, Tennessee, where Geoffrey McGowen works at Erlanger Hospital, has a wealth of outdoors options, from the flat, smooth trails at Chickamauga Battlefield to more strenuous hikes on Stringer’s Ridge, Signal Mountan, and Prentice Cooper National Forest. If hiking isn’t your thing, you could try standup paddle boarding, bicycling, a regular walk across the Walnut Street Bridge and through Coolidge Park, or community yoga events like those hosted by the Hunter Museum. You just might find increased health, peace of mind, and connect with new neighbors!