Walking: Cut Your Risk Of Heart Disease
When we think of boosting our heart health with physical activity, swimming, jogging or playing tennis might come to mind at first. But, an activity that is just as effective and beneficial—to both your physical and mental health—is walking.
Walking is one of the best workouts around because it can be done anywhere—a mall, a gym, or your own neighborhood. What’s more, there is no cost to walk, you do not need gym equipment, and you can start walking at any time. What’s even better is that people of all ages and health backgrounds can reap the benefits of walking.
“Walking consistently is a great form of exercise that reduces cardiovascular mortality… and often correlates to other healthy habits and behaviors,” Dr. Tamanna Singh, co-director of the sports cardiology center at Cleveland Clinic, told Huffington Post.
A wealth of evidence shows that walking strengthens the heart muscle and tones the leg and abdominal muscles. But that’s not all. According to the Heart Foundation, regular physical activity, such as walking, can help:
- Reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke
- Manage weight, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol
- Prevent and control diabetes
- Reduce your risk of developing some cancers
- Maintain your bone density, reducing your risk of osteoporosis and fractures
- Improve balance and coordination, reducing your risk of falls and other injuries
- Improve your daily mood, which cumulatively leads to better mental health
Walking an estimated 21 minutes a day can reduce your risk of heart disease by 30 percent, according to a Harvard Health special report published in 2017 that has been used to emphasize the importance of walking. In addition, walking can improve your mood. The Harvard Health report noted a number of studies have found that walking is as effective as drugs for decreasing depression and relieving everyday stresses. Likewise, Dr. Thomas Frieden, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, once said that walking is “the closest thing we have to a wonder drug.”
How Often and How Long Should You Walk?
How often and how long should you walk in order to see a difference? It all depends on what you want to achieve. However, health experts say to take your time when you are first starting.
Dr. Felipe Lobelo, director of Emory University’s Exercise is Medicine Global Research and Collaboration Center in Atlanta cautions against trying to get in your physical activity all at once.
“If you don’t do much during the week, trying to walk 150 minutes on a Sunday will leave you achy the next morning,” Dr. Lobelo told the American Heart Association. “Ideally, you should do this throughout the week.”
The current Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans call for 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity a week and two days of muscle-strengthening activity. Physical activity includes walking, swimming, and bicycle riding, while running, jumping rope, and lifting weights are examples of bone-strengthening activity.
The Harvard report found that walking an estimated 21 minutes a day can reduce the risk of heart disease by 30 percent. Walking can also reduce the risk of diabetes and cancer, as well as lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
Barry Franklin, director of preventive cardiology and cardiac rehabilitation at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, recommends walking five times weekly for at least 30 minutes each time. However, Franklin said it’s fine to walk for five, 10, or 15 minutes at a time as many times as it takes. “I tell patients they don’t have to put the dollar bill in the piggy bank all at once.”
Other suggestions include walking at a brisk pace, which is considered to be above 3 mph. You can also walk just 2 mph, but health experts say you will not burn as many calories (even if you’re walking for 30 minutes) because you are covering a shorter distance. According to Franklin, if you are walking 2 mph, you can reap the same benefits as walking 3 mph if you walk uphill or on a treadmill with a 3.5 percent incline.
Whether you walk briskly or slowly, the point is to get up and move as often as possible rather than remain physically inactive for long periods.
One study found that people with low levels of activity with eight or more hours of daily sedentary time had up to seven times higher risk of stroke than more physically active people who reported less than four hours of sedentary time. The study was published in Stroke, the American Heart Association’s journal.
Get Inspired to Walk
Sometimes, it’s difficult to start regular physical activity because the last thing you want to do is exercise. So, here are three tips that may help you get motivated to walk:
- Trying walking with a friend. You’re more likely to walk if you have a walking buddy, Dr. Singh says. What’s more, you and your friend will hold each other accountable to developing a walking habit and sticking to it.
- Listen to your favorite music or a podcast only during your walk. A good podcast, audiobook, or soundtrack makes walks more enjoyable. Listening to your favorite audio only on your walks will “get you excited to go on a walk, and [you’ll] get the ‘reward’ of listening to your favorite thing,” Singh said.
- Start small. There is no need to attempt a 5K walk (a little over 3 miles) on your first day. Feel free to start off by taking a minute-long walk down your driveway. According to the Harvard Health report, even a quick one-minute jaunt pays off. A 2014 University of Utah study found that for every minute of brisk walking that women did throughout the day, they lowered their risk of obesity by five percent. So, start small and increase the walking distance over time.
After walking becomes a habit and when you feel ready, Dr. Singh recommends walking different distances and different intensities, such as changing speeds and walking up hills.
The Harvard Health report suggests that walking may be the most perfect exercise around. Since walking is good for the heart and so many other things, the report stated that “the next time you have a medical check-up, don’t be surprised if your doctor hands you a prescription to walk.”