Walking for Heart Health

Is walking enough of an exercise for heart health? Today, fitness magazines are filled with vigorous routines designed to get you back into shape, so it may seem like the simple act of walking isn’t enough. There are real advantages, though, to walking over high impact exercises like jogging unless you are training hard for a marathon or some other competitive sport. Consider some ways a daily walk can do the heart some good and reduce your risk of injury at the same time.

Why Walk?

Any regular exercise is good for your heart, so why choose walking? The most obvious reason is simplicity. Walking requires no equipment or expensive gym membership. It is something you can do just about anywhere and at any time – it is an uncomplicated approach to staying physically active.

Walking also exercises your whole body at once. It’s a choice that can reduce your risk of musculoskeletal problems that often develop as you get older like osteoarthritis.

Walking vs. Jogging

Jogging is by far the best choice for someone that enjoys a good run, but it is not necessarily better than walking. Researchers at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut assessed data from two studies: the National Runner’s Health Study and the National Walker’s Health Study and concluded that walking and jogging required about the same amount of energy. The only real difference was distance. Joggers went farther than the walkers, but that didn’t add up to more energy burned.

In fact, the study shows walking is better when it comes to reducing your risk of most chronic illnesses. The 2013 study, published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, offered this data:

  • High blood pressure – Running reduced the risk by 4.2 percent and walking by 7.2 percent.
  • High cholesterol – Running reduced high cholesterol rates by 4.3 percent and walking by 7 percent.
  • Diabetes – Both exercises lowered the risk of developing diabetes by around 12 percent.
  • Heart disease – Walking really shined in the fight against heart disease. Walkers lowered their risk of heart problems by 9.3 percent while the runners only saw a decrease of 4.5 percent.

The one upside to running is weight loss. Runners did lose more weight on average than the walkers, but they increased their risk of injury with this higher-impact exercise.

Walking the Right Way

Brisk walking provides the most benefit for your heart but it is your technique that really matters, according to the Mayo Clinic. Practicing good posture and moving as many muscles as possible means you get more from the exercise.

Tips for good walking habits include:

  • Keep your eyes forward and head up. This will encourage better posture when you walk. If you are looking at the ground, you will naturally slump your shoulders forward.
  • Swing your arms while you walk. This gives you a little extra upper body movement and enough momentum to keep up the pace.
  • Focus on holding your back straight. Avoid arching it forward or back. Imagine someone pulling on a string attached to the top of your head.
  • Practice rolling your foot from heel to toe as you walk. This helps keep you moving smoothly even at a quicker pace.

You don’t need expensive shoes to enjoy walking but pick ones with good arch support and a thick, flexible sole to keep your feet comfortable. Make sure to wear clothes that don’t chafe or get hot. If you are walking at night, stick to bright colors, so you are easier for vehicles to spot, too.

Make warming up and cooling down part of your walking routine. Start slowly for about 10 minutes and then speed up to a brisk pace. Slow back down about five minutes before finishing so your muscles can cool. Add in a few brief stretches before and after your walk, as well.

If you are new to walking, then start with several short walks a day. You get the same benefit from three 10-minute walks each day as you do with one 30-minute. As you build your endurance, you can start adding more time to each session. Find ways to incorporate 30-minutes a day, five days a week into your life for optimum results. You can factor in walking to daily activities to meet that goal. For example, park the car and walk to the nearest grocery store or to work, take the stairs instead of the elevator and if you have to drive pick a parking space at the back of the parking lot and gain more steps walking in.

It doesn’t take much to keep your heart healthy. Something as simple as a daily walk can make a huge difference.