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Walking is Simple Way to Protect Heart Health

One of the simplest ways to get healthier and protect your heart is walking. For most people, it’s safe, easy to start and stick with, and involves little or no cost. And while it’s simple, walking has numerous proven health benefits.

“Research published in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases shows 15 minutes of daily exercise reduces all-cause mortality by 11 percent," says UAB Medicine interventional cardiologist Gregory Chapman, MD.

The American Heart Association recommends walking at least 150 minutes a week or 10,000 steps a day. Even three 10-minute walks each day can make a big difference. Research shows that for every hour of brisk walking, life expectancy for some people may increase by two hours. Dr. Chapman says walking regularly also can:
  • Reduce your risk of serious medical conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer
  • Improve your blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood cholesterol levels
  • Increase your energy and stamina
  • Enhance your mental and emotional well-being
  • Prevent weight gain
A 2013 research study suggested that walking briskly can help your health as much as running. In fact, doctors suggest walking may even be better for those who have experienced a cardiac event, sustained an injury, or need to build up to a more intense workout routine.
 
Want to start a walking fitness routine? Dr. Chapman offers a few quick tips:
  • Gear up. Choose comfortable clothes and supportive shoes. Make sure you have about half an inch between your longest toe and the end of the shoe. Experts suggest avoiding cotton socks because they retain moisture and can lead to blisters.
  • Stay cool. It’s easy to get overheated, especially with hotter Alabama temperatures. Try walking early in the morning or right before sunset. If it’s too hot outside, find a cooler place to walk, such as an indoor walking track or a mall.
  • Easy does it. If you’re out of shape, start with a stroll that feels comfortable and gradually increase your time and/or distance.
  • Focus on form. Keep your head lifted, abs engaged, and shoulders relaxed. Let your arms swing naturally. Avoid carrying heavy items or hand weights because they put extra stress on your elbows and shoulders.
  • Breathe. If you can’t talk or catch your breath, slow down. Forget about speed and just walk.
  • Add variety and challenge. Try walking at intervals. For example, walk one block slowly, two blocks fast, and repeat. Over time, you’ll be able to add more fast intervals with shorter recovery periods. Hills and stairs are also a great way to increase muscle tone and burn calories.
  • Stretch. Be sure to get your body warmed up with some gentle stretching before and after your walk. Stretch your hamstrings, calves, chest, shoulders, and back.
  • Track your progress. Fit walking into your schedule whenever you can. Even if it means shorter walks, you should strive for 150 minutes each week or 10,000 steps per day.
UAB Medicine is a sponsor of the American Heart Association’s Birmingham Heart Walk, scheduled for Saturday, June 9, at Railroad Park. Join a Heart Walk team or donate to support local cardiovascular research and educational programs.