Take an Easy Step Toward Better Heart Health
Every prescription for heart health includes some form of physical activity. If you have been sedentary for very long, an easy and effective way to ease back into activity is to start walking.
Some of the benefits of regular walking are:
- Reducing your risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.
- Improving your blood pressure, blood sugar levels and cholesterol.
- Maintaining your body weight and lowering the risk of obesity.
- Increasing your energy, stamina and self-esteem.
- Enhancing your mental well-being.
- Improving bone health and reducing the risk of certain cancers.
- Reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes.
Researchers analyzed 33,060 runners in the National Runners’ Health Study and 15,045 walkers in the National Walkers’ Health Study. They found that the same energy used for moderate-intensity walking and vigorous-intensity running resulted in similar reductions in risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and possibly coronary heart disease over the study’s six years. This means you don’t need to become a marathoner to gain tremendous health benefits.
The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (or a combination of the two) per week for heart health (learn more about moderate and vigorous activity). That may mean three 10-minute walks over the course of a day. The best schedule is one that keeps you walking and keeps you fit!
The most important thing is just to get started, even if it’s just a few additional minutes per day. Set a reachable goal just for today. Then you can work toward your overall goal of at least 150 minutes per week by increasing your time as you get in better shape. Before starting any exercise program, heart patients or people with a specific medical question should talk with their doctor about what is safe for them to do. Any amount of activity is better than none, and the more physically active a person is, the greater the anticipated cardiovascular benefit.
Find an approach that you enjoy. It may be where you do it, doing it with someone or walking alone because you appreciate the solitude.
And if you’re busy — like most of us — you can split up your walks into 10-15 minutes each. You can also work in walking when you:
- Take the dog out for a stroll through the neighborhood.
- Spend quality time with the family at the park.
- Park farther from your workplace and use the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Window shop at the mall.
Remember, it’s not all or nothing, it’s step by step.
Visit our website for everything you need to know about walking for heart health.
Walking aficionado Paul Grizey accepts the 2015 BIDMC Boston Walker of the Year Award with his wife, Gayle.
In 2014, Paul Grizey, 56, of Watertown, Massachusetts, took up walking and changed his diet because he wanted to do something none of his three siblings or mother had done — live past 60. "When I started I could barely get around the block!" he said. "I basically limped my way around at first."
Today he walks up to 3 miles on his lunch hour four days a week and then at least one, if not both, days on the weekend. Those walks are typically longer than 3 miles. He often walks twice a day when his evening schedule allows it.
"At first I enjoyed walking just because I was doing something that was healthy," he said. "Now I enjoy the physical activity for what it is, I get a walker’s high on long walks. The only thing that stops me is fatigue in my joints after about 5 miles."
The first change he noticed was that his clothes fit better, but then soon after his joints started hurting less. Though he often walks with others on his lunch hour, he prefers to walk alone so he can concentrate on getting the most out of a walk.
Since Grizey started walking 16 months ago, he has lost over 12 inches off his waist and cut his blood pressure medicine in half. But he prefers not to focus on numbers. "Numbers are not the most important thing for me," he said. "What is most important is that I continue to do the things that I know will keep me on track to good health. Not concentrating on the numbers helps me get through the bumps, obstacles, setbacks and difficult times. I prefer to focus on the fact I have more energy, a positive attitude, and I look and feel so much better."