Cardiovascular disease is the main cause of death worldwide. In US in particular, the stats are startling: almost 700.000 people die of heart disease and over 795.000 suffer a stroke each year. If you want to keep your heart healthy, it’s crucial to make lifestyle changes and, equally important, maintain them with the passing of time.
What lifestyle changes can we make? Well, we need to start eating a healthy diet, reach and maintain a normal weight, quit smoking, limit the consumption of alcohol or find ways to manage stress. In addition, it’s fundamental to get physically active each day. This doesn’t mean we should automatically resort to professionally-designed workout plans. A simple exercise like walking can be one of the best ways to prevent cardiovascular disease.
The Relationship Between Walking and Cardiovascular Disease
We know that walking is a great form of exercise, with tons of benefits. Among others this activity can help us lose weight, manage chronic diseases like diabetes and arthritis, strengthen our bones and muscles, boost our immune system or improve our mental wellbeing. But can walking have a positive effect on our cardiovascular health? The answer is yes. And it’s demonstrable.
As an aerobic exercise, walking has the power to get your heart rate up and make your heart stronger. At the same time, going for a stroll on a regular basis can reduce your blood pressure and improve blood circulation and pulmonary function, ensuring a better delivery of oxygen to vital organs. There is of course scientific evidence to confirm the benefits of walking on heart health.
A review of observational and intervention studies analyzed the impact of this exercise on cardiovascular disease (CVD). The results showed that walking can play an essential part in the primary and secondary prevention of CVD in the case of both healthy and patient subjects. The same paper concluded that pedometers and pedometer apps are efficient in promoting physical activity and stimulating people to walk more each day.
A different study, carried out on US adults at different levels of CVD risk, reached the same conclusion: walking can be an effective exercise to promote an active lifestyle and to prevent and manage cardiovascular disease. According to the National Heart Foundation of Australia, going for a 30-minute walk on a daily basis can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by 35% and type 2 diabetes by 40%.
Is a Brisk Walk Recommended?
We’ve seen that walking for heart health is an excellent strategy. But is there a specific pace we should consider or is it enough to constantly go for a leisure stroll?
According to scientists, better results can be obtained by increasing the volume of our workouts and also by picking up the pace and engaging in a moderate- or high-intensity session. According to a paper published by British researchers in the European Heart Journal, taking a 7-minute brisk walk instead of a 14-minute stroll is enough to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
A systematic review and meta-analysis, conducted by professors from Cambridge University, examined the link between walking and various types of heart disease and cancer. 196 articles were analyzed, with 30 million participants to the studies. Scientists discovered that brisk walking for 11 minutes on a daily basis can reduce the risk of stroke, heart disease and certain forms of cancer. A total of 75 minutes of moderate activity each week was found to lower the risk of heart disease by 17% and of premature death by 23%.
Another research, from Queen’s University Belfast, analyzed the impact of 30 minutes of self-paced brisk walking, 5 days a week, for 12 weeks, on the health and fitness of individuals aged 50-65 years. After analyzing the data, researchers found that participants to the walking program showed substantial decreases in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, a lower risk of suffering a stroke, as well as improved functional capacity.
Should You Take a Certain Number of Steps?
There’s clear evidence that walking, either leisurely or at a faster pace, can generate significant benefits for our cardiovascular health. But how much should we really walk to reap those benefits? Should we focus on a daily step number? Well, science says it actually depends on your age.
According to a recent paper, published in the journal Circulation, older adults (over 60 years of age) who take between 6.000 – 9.000 steps per day have a 40-50% reduced risk of suffering a stroke or heart attack in comparison to those who take only 2.000 steps per day. Scientists didn’t discover though a relationship between the step count and risk of cardiovascular disease in the case of younger individuals.
Keep Track of Your Walking Activity
If you want to prevent CVD and hence become more physically active, it’s advisable to start tracking your walks. This way you’ll be able to see exactly how much you’re walking and if you’re meeting the recommended guidelines, to monitor your progress in time and find the motivation to keep on going. Moreover, as you move on and meet and ever surpass your goals, you’ll gain a sense of accomplishment and boost your self-confidence.
In order to keep track of your walks you don’t really need to buy a fitness tracker. You can easily accomplish this task with the aid of a pedometer app in your iPhone or Android device, such as our own ActivityTracker. The app will automatically record your movement with a minimum impact on your battery (no GPS usage) and will provide info about relevant fitness metrics. These include the number of steps, the distance walked, calories burned or active time. You’ll have the chance to set personal targets, receive notifications about your progress and share with others your results.
Being physically active is fundamental to your heart health. This doesn’t automatically imply you should sign up for a gym membership or engage in vigorous training sessions. No, a simple form of physical activity like walking is enough. Research has shown that walking is an effective exercise to prevent heart disease. The key though is to integrate this exercise into your daily routine. Go for a stroll on a daily basis and, if possible, include brisk walking sessions from time to time to really reap the benefits.