by Erin Wolf, APRN

It’s not too late to take a step in the right direction this month – literally! February is American Heart Month, and while Americans suffer more than 1.5 million heart attacks and strokes every year, heart disease is largely preventable. The leading causes of heart disease are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, and obesity. In addition to quitting smoking, there’s one thing that can affect all these risk factors:  physical activity. The American Heart Association agrees walking is one of the simplest ways to get active and stay active.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week. Moderate-intensity activity can be measured by the talk test. If you can talk but not sing during exercise, you’re performing the exercise at moderate intensity. So, does this mean you need to join a gym?  No, you can accomplish this through brisk walking. Walking is a low-cost form of exercise you can do almost anywhere.

Walking Lowers Heart Disease Risk Factors

  • Studies have shown walking can reduce blood pressure. Walking makes the heart stronger which will then pump blood with less effort lowering blood pressure.
  • Walking lowers cholesterol by stimulating enzymes to move LDL (bad cholesterol) from the blood to the liver. This will help your digestive system get rid of the LDL.
  • Walking helps your muscles use more sugar and your body produce more insulin. This will lower your overall blood sugar levels and improve your diabetes.
  • Walking can help with weight loss.

Beyond reducing your risk for heart disease, walking has many other benefits. It improves sleep, slows cognitive function decline, and boosts mood. It will also build endurance, increase strength, and improve flexibility.

Any amount of walking at any intensity is better than no walking at all. And who knows? You could build up your fitness and progress to more brisk walking.

How to Start a Walking Program

  • It’s recommended you do some light stretching before you set out on a walk.
  • Include a warm-up and cool down of slower walking with moderate paced walking in between.
  • If you’re new to walking, start with 10 minutes per day and gradually increase the amount of time walking over six to eight weeks.
  • Remember, your ultimate walking goal is 150 minutes per week.

Walking does not require any fancy equipment or specialty clothing and can also be a social activity.

Other Tips for Walking

  • Proper footwear: low-heeled sneakers or sturdy-soled shoes.
  • Walk facing traffic so you are more visible.
  • Wear bright clothing to be more visible.
  • Walk with a friend for safety and to be social.

You should always check in with your primary-care provider before you start any type of new exercise program. But we hope to see you out walking soon!

a multi-generational black family walking along a sidewalk, smiling in the sunshine

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