Run an errand. Take the dog out. Go for a relaxing stroll.
With every step, walking offers benefits and is some of the best exercise for heart health. It can improve your cholesterol levels, blood pressure and energy levels, plus it can fight weight gain to improve heart health overall, explains the American Heart Association. Walking can also reduce stress, clear your mind and boost your mood.
All of those things can help reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke — and the best part? You only need about two and a half hours per week of moderate exercise, such as a brisk walk around the park.
Walking When Your Job Involves Sitting?
Sometimes, it's easier to talk the talk than walk the walk, especially if you have a job that keeps you sedentary most of the day.
By taking time to understand your daily routine, it's possible to find pockets of time for cardiovascular fitness in the form of walking. With your doctor's guidance, try these health tips:
- Go for an early-morning walk with your pooch. Or, if you don't already have a pet, consider getting one — caring for an animal can help reduce your heart disease risk, says the AHA.
- When going to work or the store, park your car far from the entrance so that you can fit more steps into your day.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Wear a pedometer to keep track of your physical activity, and set attainable goals to stay motivated, perhaps 1,000 steps a day.
- Set a timer to get up and move around the office at least once an hour.
- Recruit coworkers for a daily lunchtime walk outside, weather permitting.
Make a Plan. Then Take a Walk.
If you need extra motivation or structure to fit walking into your day, consider this 12-week walking schedule from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, courtesy of the Mayo Clinic: The schedule, designed to help you get up to speed with a daily walking routine, starts out with 5-minute increments of walking, including a warmup, brisk walk and cool down. By the final week, you can work your way up to a full 30 minutes of brisk walking, sandwiched between 5 minutes of an easier pace.
Be sure to consult your doctor first to make sure this program is right for you, especially if you're older than 40 and haven't been physically active.
Add in Some Strength Exercises
Though you can certainly walk your way to improved heart health, you can push, pull, lift, squat and lunge your way to it as well. The AHA recommends twice-a-week strength training for stronger bones, muscles and connective tissues. Plus, by building muscles, you can help lower your blood pressure to prime your body for the physical activity your heart needs, notes the Mayo Clinic.
When you've made a good habit out of walking, and if your body is up for it, consider mixing these quick exercises into your routine:
- Walking Lunges: As you walk, take a larger-than-normal step and bring your back knee close to the ground for a full lunge. Then, step forward with the back foot in the same way. Repeat for 10 lunges at a time, if possible.
- Walking Curl Presses: Bring along a light pair of weights, such as 2- or 3-pound dumbbells. As you walk, start with the weights in each hand down by your thighs. Bring the weights up into a curl to your shoulders, then press above your head. Return the weights back down to your shoulders and then back your thighs. Repeat in 3-minute increments, if possible.
- Knee-Tap March: Walk forward with high knees, tapping your knees with your hand at every step. Repeat in 3-minute increments, if possible.
Walking: The Key to a Longer Life?
With a little patience, practice and perseverance, you may be able to work your way up to more cardio and resistance exercises. And while the two-and-a-half hour per week rule makes for a great starting point, more exercise can be worth it, if you've got the time. Compared to less than 30 minutes of weekly activity, seven hours of weekly physical activity could reduce the risk of early death by as much as 40 percent, says the CDC.
If you want to focus on ways to improve heart health, don't let the excuses stop you. Whether you take a stroll, jaunt, saunter, hike or promenade, just get out there and walk. Your heart will thank you.