Walking for Your Heart
People like to talk fondly of a runner’s high, but running isn’t for everyone. Whether it’s due to preference or physical concerns, running isn’t in the cards for many people. Fortunately, you don’t have to run a marathon to keep your heart healthy. You don’t even need to run down the block. All you need is some walking shoes and a safe area to stroll. Walking can be one of the healthiest exercises you can do for your heart.
Less Stress on the Body
Walking has, quite literally, less impact on the body over time. When walking, the body has one foot on the ground at all times. Joggers and runners, on the other hand, are airborne almost half the time. This means that, at routine intervals, a runner’s body must hit the ground, again and again, bringing force upon the body. Over the years, the repeated impact can create exercise-related injuries in runners. Walking avoids this impact; thus, the reason it’s called a low-impact activity. Only 1%-5% of walkers experience any exercise-related injuries. In comparison, 20% to 70% of runners have an exercise-related injury at some point in their lifetime—less force on bones, joints, and muscles when exercising means a reduced risk for injuries.
Walking and the Cardiovascular System
In an age of extreme sports and Crossfit training programs, walking might not seem like an adequate exercise program. But don’t let the peaceful nature of walking deter you from incorporating it as part of a fitness routine. Walking can benefit anyone. But women, for the most part, already use walking as an exercise or as a leisure activity more so than men do.
In a 2017 study published in BMC Public Health, women walked more often than men either for exercise or for fun. For many women, walking is already a part of their daily life. Making walking a formal part of their cardiovascular exercise program can be an extension of their current activities and boost their heart health. Studies show that both walking and running can reduce high blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
Walking Improves Blood Flow
Just like the other muscles in the body, the heart needs some activity every so often to strengthen it. Because walking can speed up the heart, it allows the muscle fibers that make up the heart to contract and expand, pumping blood throughout the body. The more often the heart can get this exercise, the more efficient it becomes at doing its job. The exercise that comes from walking makes the heart and its circulatory system much more flexible and effective.
Walking Lowers Blood Pressure
When the heart is healthy, it needs to beat less often to push out the same amount of blood. A healthy heart not only has a slower heartbeat than an unhealthy heart, but it needs less pressure to pump the right amount of blood out. When a heart needs a lot of pressure to get a sufficient amount of blood out with every push — as is the case with high blood pressure — it can produce wear and tear on the cardiovascular system over time. Regular exercise, like walking, can lower blood pressure.
Walking Reduces Cholesterol
We know that diet plays a large part in how cholesterol develops in the body, but so does exercise. Walking and other activities reduce bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase the production of good cholesterol (HDL), possibly by as much as 10%. The weight loss and change in body enzymes that occur with brisk walking are what help to improve cholesterol numbers.
Finding a New Way to Walk
Any form of aerobic exercise is excellent for your heart, and walking falls into that category. As long as you can feel your heart pumping a little quicker while you’re exercising, your walking exercise is working. If you feel the need to slow it down, that’s even better. The Mayo Clinic recommends a slow-fast-slow interval exercise that’s similar to these guidelines:
- Warm up by walking slowly.
- Up your speed to a moderate pace, for at least 5 minutes.
- Then speed up so that you’re walking faster for 5 minutes.
- After five minutes of quick walking, increase your speed so that you are walking briskly (or lightly jogging if you can tolerate it) for 30 seconds to two minutes.
- Decrease your speed for one to three minutes. Then repeat steps 2-4.
- Slow down to a warm up pace after 35 minutes of exercise.
Walking Can Be a Lifetime Activity
Unlike some other exercises, people of all ages can look to walking as a cardio workout form. Children, teenagers, and young parents with strollers can all utilize walking without compromising safety or health. And as people age, running or strenuous exercise may become less of an option due to body changes. When this happens, low impact exercises like walking and swimming can be excellent options to turn to. Walking for exercise can benefit people of all ages, which means the entire family can participate. Whether done alone or with a group, brisk walking for about 30 minutes a day can stretch your heart muscles and boost your health.