If you are looking for aerobic exercise that is easy to do and full of perks for your heart, grab your walking shoes and get moving now.
It’s no secret that aerobic exercise is good for you. Getting your heart rate up can help lower risks of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. But you don’t have to push through high-intensity workouts for heart health benefits.
“For most people, establishing a long-term habit of walking is more feasible compared to running or other more intense exercise,” said Ascension Seton Heart Institute cardiologist Raymond Bietry, MD. Seton is part of Ascension, the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system.
Taking it one step at a time can help keep risk factors for heart disease and stroke at bay. In fact, researchers say moderate-intensity walking and vigorous-intensity running have similar heart health benefits.
Specifically, a study reported in the American Heart Association journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, followed 33,060 runners and 15,045 walkers for six years. For both walkers and runners, the more they hit the pavement, the more their health benefits increased.
The wonders of walking
Walking takes care of more than just your heart. The Arthritis Foundation points out multiple benefits of walking that can positively impact the whole person—mind, body and spirit.
Taking steps to go the extra mile can lead to:
- A happier you: Walking releases endorphins that can help fight depression and improve your mood.
- A more rested you: Walking releases serotonin which can help you relax and get the most of their zzz’s later that night
- A stronger you: Walking strengthens your muscles (including your heart muscle!), promotes joint health and can prevent bone loss for people with osteoporosis. It can also help fight against memory loss and lower Alzheimer’s risk.
- A more capable you: Walking can lead to a longer, healthier life, allowing you to do the things you love, longer.
How often, how long?
The American Heart Association and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommend adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. That’s about 7,000 – 8,000 steps of brisk walking daily.
Sound daunting? It doesn’t have to be. Here are some tips to help get your steps in:
- Have a set walking time
- Grab a walking buddy, which could even be a four-legged friend
- Plug into your favorite tunes or podcast to make it more fun
- Break it down into little spurts, as long as each session lasts about 10 minutes
Time to walk
No time to walk? Not so fast! If you can’t manage a designated walking time daily, Bietry suggests working it into your day-to-day activities.
- Instead of looking for the closest parking spot, park further out and walk.
- Get your heart rate up a bit by taking the stairs.
- Involve the whole family and take the dog for a walk. Add hand or ankle weights to amp it up a bit.
If you have not been active for a while, Bietry says to start slow, but the important thing is to start.
“No matter how slow you go, you are lapping anyone on the couch,” Bietry said. “So start with small lifestyle changes and go from there,” he said.
Talk to your doctor about what walking plan is the best path to a healthier you.
Ready, Set, Go! Heel, toe, repeat!
Make walking a habit and try these simple tips for walking success:
- Set realistic goals. Use a pedometer, smart phone app or journal to track your progress. Raise the bar once they are met, and keep going.
- Dress the part. Soft, breathable clothing and walking-specific shoes are key to walking in comfort. A professional can help you find the perfect style and fit based on your specific needs. Replace those shoes every six months to a year, depending on your activity level.
- Be safe. For early morning or night-time walks, wear reflective gear. Carry flashlight and walk in familiar areas. Always let someone know where you are and carry a phone for emergencies.
- Have a plan B. Don’t forget sunscreen, hat and sunglasses to protect against harmful UV rays. If it gets too hot, or rain interferes, head to the mall for an indoor option.
Ascension Seton is a Healthy For GoodTM sponsor of American Heart Association’s National Walking Day and the CEO Challenge.