JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

The American Heart Association's annual Heart Walk brought thousands to downtown Jacksonville on Saturday morning.

The local charity walk raises much-needed money for lifesaving research and brings great family fun to downtown.

The walk's opening ceremonies started at 8 a.m. at Metropolitan Park and the walk started at 9 a.m.

In 2011, more than 16,000 participated, making this Jacksonville's largest walk. Last year, a total of $994,000 dollars were raised as well. Figures on this year's event are not yet available.

Dollars raised through the Heart Walk fund critical research, education and community programs to help combat heart disease and strokes, the organization said.

The community-wide event is composed of corporate walk teams, friends and family teams, individual walkers, and survivors of diseases.

This year, people were encouraged to bring their dogs to the walk and participate in a Top Dog Contest.

Participant Rodriguez Kennybrew said walkers set a good example.

"It was important because we were supporting people with heart conditions as well as showing that it is important to take care of your heart," Kennybrew said.

Nephataria Brown said she participated because she likes to give back to others.

"We always think of ourselves in things, but now it's time for us to give back to the community."