Take a Walk in the Name of Heart Health

Jodi Helmer
by Jodi Helmer
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Take a Walk in the Name of Heart Health

Walking provides a bevy of heart health benefits from lowering blood pressure and cholesterol to reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes. New research shows it could reduce the risk of heart disease, too.

paper presented at the American College of Cardiology annual scientific session last month followed 89,270 participants for 10 years and found that walking at a moderate pace for at least 40 minutes 2–3 times per week was associated with a lower risk of heart failure than their sedentary peers.

Walking helps “decrease the burden over the heart,” explains researcher Dr. Somwail Rasla, MD, a cardiology fellow at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts.  

The more often walkers laced up their sneakers (and the longer they spent walking) the greater the heart health benefits they experienced.

While that effect is not unique to post-menopausal women, researchers focused on that specific population because the risk of heart failure increases with age; women between the ages of 75–84 are three times more apt to have heart failure as women ages 65–74.

This was the first study to assess the impact of walking frequency, duration and speed on heart disease among women over age 50.

FREQUENCY, DURATION AND SPEED MATTER

As researchers drilled down the data, they discovered each element of a walking routine had a different impact on heart health: Women who walked at least twice a week lowered their risk of heart failure up to 25% compared with less frequent walkers; those who walked for 40 minutes or more lessened their risk 21–25% over women who took shorter walks and women who walked at an average or fast pace saw their risk of heart failure decline between 26–38% compared with their peers who strolled at a slower pace.


READ MORE > IS IT BETTER TO WALK FOR TIME OR DISTANCE?


Rasla notes that the combination of speed, frequency and duration is the trifecta for lowering heart disease risk, noting that these are the keys to experiencing an overall benefit from an exercise program.

Post-menopausal women aren’t the only ones whose hearts benefit from a brisk walk.

In 2013, researchers examined data from the National Walkers’ Health Study, which included men and women between the ages of 41–73 and found that a moderate-intensity walking workout provided significant heart health benefits, lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and protecting against coronary heart disease. The results were similar to the reductions in risk experienced by runners.

In both studies, the more often walkers laced up their sneakers (and the longer they spent walking) the greater the heart health benefits they experienced.

“A sedentary lifestyle also increases your risk of heart disease,” notes Dr. Nieca Goldberg, medical director for the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at the NYU Langone Medical Center. “Any kind of aerobic exercise you can do to counteract that, including walking, helps offset those risks.”

Rasla calls walking an “easy, feasible and affordable” workout with significant return on investment, noting, “You can’t underestimate its benefit to your heart health.”

About the Author

Jodi Helmer
Jodi Helmer

Jodi Helmer writes about health and wellness for publications like WebMD, AARP, Shape, Woman’s Day, Arthritis Today and Costco Connection among others. She often comes up with the best story ideas while hiking with her rescue dogs. You can read Jodi’s work or follow her on Twitter @helmerjodi.

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