Did you know every 40 seconds someone has a heart attack in the United States? And the American Heart Association (AHA) reports that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States every year: in 2017 alone, more than 850,000 people died of coronary related illnesses and the numbers continue to rise. If you could decrease your risk for heart disease, and it only took an investment of a few hours a week, would you?
How do you improve your heart health?
It’s simple - move! Most people know that exercise and heart health are related, but understanding how this works helps you get the most out of your efforts. Aerobic, or “with oxygen,” exercise is any kind of cardiovascular conditioning that makes your breathing and heart rate increase moderately. This increased breathing brings oxygenated blood to the heart where it is pumped to the rest of the body. As your cardiovascular fitness improves, your heart works less to pump the same amount of blood through your body. In fact, a low resting heart rate is often a hallmark of a highly trained athlete.
What’s the best form of aerobic exercise?
Hippocrates claimed “Walking is man’s best medicine” way back in 460BC. And according to cardiologist Karol Watson of the UCLA Preventative Cardiology Program, it still is. She says “walking is the best exercise for those over 50.” But Harvard Health reports that studies have shown measurable heart benefits at any age; walking reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by a compelling 31% and cut the risk of dying by 32% in both women and men.
What about running, you ask? Believe it or not, walking has all the same cardio benefits as running; you may just need to do it a little longer to reap the same benefits. Comparing the results of the National Runners’ Health Study to National Walkers’ Health Study, scientists found that when controlled for the amount of energy expended, runners and walkers realized the same decreased risk for hypertension, high cholesterol, and coronary artery disease. And while running is an effective and efficient path to cardio health, it is also associated with up to 25% higher risk of injury for men who run compared with men who walk in a study reported in the National Library of Medicine. So unless you love to run, walking will benefit your heart just as well as running, and it’s a much safer option.
How far and how fast?
Believe it or not, the heart reaps benefits even at moderate distances and a moderate pace. Just 5½ miles per week (that’s a little over 10,000 steps A WEEK) and at a pace as casual as about 2 miles per hour will improve your heart health. The more you do, the healthier your heart. For you over-achievers, people who walk longer distances, walked at a faster pace, or both, enjoyed the greatest heart protection.
In addition to walking longer and faster, you can always fire up your health benefits by adding stairs or hills to your walk. StepJockey.com reports that just seven minutes of stair climbing a day has been estimated to more than halve the risk of a heart attack over 10 years. And now we’re right back where we started!
Ready, set, walk!