Walk Your Way To A Healthier Heart
You don’t need to be an athlete to have good cardiovascular health – by incorporating moderate exercises into your weekly routine you will significantly reduce your chances of having a cardiovascular disease.
Physical inactivity is one of the top risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Fortunately, it’s a risk factor that you can do something about.
a 2012 study demonstrated that regular moderate exercising lowers the risk of heart diseases in middle-aged people.
According to the article published in the Circulation, people who were engaged in the recommended 2.5 hours of exercise a week had lower levels of inflammatory markers in their blood.
The study of over 4,000 people showed that people who had consistently performed the recommended amount of exercise for the entire 10-year study period had the lowest inflammatory levels overall.
Lower levels of inflammatory markers were also seen in those who had started doing the recommended amount of exercise in their 40s.
Researchers believe that activities such as gardening, brisk walking and many other similar activities may have similar effects.
Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise has many benefits:
- Improves your blood and lymph circulation and helps your body use oxygen better
- Boosts high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol and decreases LDL (“bad” cholesterol).
- Improve the capacity of the blood vessels to dilate and to provide oxygen to the muscles during exercise.
- Helps keep arteries elastic (flexible) and ensures good blood flow and normal blood pressure
- Assists in weight loss and maintaining healthy weight
- Increases energy levels so you can do more activities without becoming tired or short of breath
- Improves muscle tone and strength
- Improves balance and joint flexibility
- Improves bone health and ability to perform daily activities
- Significantly decreases your stress levels.
Inflammation has a prominent role in the pathogenesis of cardiovascular diseases.
Regular exercise reduces CRP, IL-6, and TNF-α levels and also increases anti-inflammatory substances such as IL-4 and IL-10. In fact even leisure time physical activity (e.g., walking, jogging, or running, etc.) reduces hs-CRP concentration
In order to get the best cardiovascular benefit, a range of 30 to 60 minutes of continuous or intermittent (minimum of 10-minute bouts several times a day) of cardiovascular exercise is suggested.
To produce the maximum benefit, exercise needs to be regular and aerobic. This should involve the use of the major large muscle groups steadily and rhythmically, so the heart rate and breathing increase significantly.
The best way for creating a successful cardiovascular fitness program is finding one that fits your lifestyle and goals.
If you have been sedentary or are overweight, you should start with lower-impact activities such as swimming, walking or stationery cycling.
Ideally, you should be aiming to do 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic or cardio exercises at least five times a week. And, you only need to train your heart at 50 percent to 60 percent of your maximum heart rate to be on your way to a stronger healthier heart.
Moderate-intensity aerobic activity is any activity that causes a slight but noticeable increase in breathing and heart rate i.e. exercising hard enough to break a sweat but not so hard you can’t comfortably carry on a conversation.
Walking is an ideal exercise for many people—it doesn’t require any special equipment, can be done any time, any place, and is generally very safe.
Walk in smaller increments of five to 10 minute if you’re not fit enough to walk for 30 minutes, and slowly build your endurance.
To get the best workout from walking, pump your arms (for increased cardiovascular effect), breathe deeply and use good posture, with your shoulders slightly back and your bottom tucked in.
Speed up to a brisk walking pace. Your pace should be moderately challenging, but you should still be able to talk and manage your breathing.
Wear supportive, comfortable walking shoes, strap on your iPod and get moving.
Walk on even surfaces, but do some stepping up and down on curbs and add some hills to vary your workout.
In one large study, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that walking half an hour a day cut the overall risk of heart disease by 18 percent.
In a study of the benefits of walking for people with diabetes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that just two hours of walking per week can reduce the risk of death from heart disease by 34 percent.
Running can be even more effective than walking if you can do it safely.
People who run at least one hour per week cut their risks of heart disease by 42 percent.
High intensity aerobic exercise, such as running, has been associated with improvements in a wide range of cardiovascular risk factors, including physical fitness, increased HDL (the good cholesterol), decreased blood pressure and decreased inflammation, says Frank Hu, M.D., from the Harvard School of Public Health.
In addition, it is one of the best ways to burn calories, a bonus if you are also trying to lose weight to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Start out with a brisk walk and add 1 to 2 minutes of running every 5 minutes of walking. As you get more fit, you can increase the minutes you run until you don’t need to walk in between.
Interval training is a great way to strengthen your heart and overall endurance.
On a treadmill or road, run for two minutes at your maximum speed and then for two minutes walk at a brisk pace. Repeat six times.
Swimming is a safe alternative if you have joint problems that walking or running can aggravate.
You might not feel as if you’re breaking a sweat but swimming is a good form of cardiovascular exercise. Doing laps or taking part in a fitness class like aqua aerobics will raise your heart rate and improve strength and tone your muscles.
The water will also provide multi-directional resistance that will improve your muscular strength and tone.
Cycling is a low impact exercise that increases strength, stamina and aerobic fitness.
Riding a bike to work is a good way to fit regular exercise into your daily routine.
Taking a spin class or doing interval training will tone-up your muscles, strengthen your heart and decrease the risk of coronary heart disease.
A Danish study conducted over 14 years with 30,000 people aged 20 to 93 years found that regular cycling protected people from heart disease.
Yoga is another fantastic low impact workout for building cardiovascular health.
Studies have shown that regular practice of Hatha yoga asanas is especially suitable for those with chronic heart disease or those recovering from heart surgery in conjunction with a structured cardiac rehabilitation program.
Resistance (weight) training has also been associated with heart protection. It may offer a complementary benefit to aerobics.
Appropriately prescribed and supervised, resistance training has favorable effects on cardiovascular function, metabolism, coronary risk factors and psychosocial well-being—all of which are factors that affect heart health.
Besides strengthening the heart, scientists found that strength training helps people with heart disease to develop bodily strength, improve their endurance and generally have more independence and a higher quality of life.
While walking or running, attach the cuff weights to your wrists or use dumbbells. Flex and extend your opposite elbows with each step.
What Should I Include in an Exercise Program?
Warming up and stretching are important parts of any workout to prepare the muscles for the extra demand and help prevent injuries.
To get the most benefit from a workout, a cooling-down period is also recommended.
Always warm up for at least 5-10 minutes before starting your exercise.
A warm-up reduces the stress on your heart and muscles, slowly increases your breathing, circulation (heart rate), and body temperature. It also helps improve flexibility and reduce muscle soreness.
Stretching the arms and legs before and after exercising helps prepare the muscles for activity and helps prevent injury and muscle strain. Regular stretching also increases your range of motion and flexibility.
This is the last phase of your exercise session. It allows your body to gradually recover from the conditioning phase. Your heart rate and blood pressure will return to near resting values.
The best cool-down is to slowly decrease the intensity of your activity. You may also do some of the same stretching activities you did in the warm-up phase.
Listen to your body and stop exercise if you experience dizziness, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat or chest pain.
Check your pulse when you walk up hills or stairs. Make sure it stays in a safe range.
Resting heart rate averages 60 to 80 beats/min in healthy adults.
The maximum heart rate is the highest heart rate achieved during maximal exercise.
One simple method to calculate your predicted maximum heart rate, uses this formula:
220 – your age = predicted maximum heart rate for men
226 – your age = predicted maximum range for women
Most exercisers looking to lose weight will want to be anywhere from 65-85 percent of that max heart-rate.
Fortunately, good heart health can be achieved through low impact workouts with heart rates much lower than that range; the recommendation for most people is between 50 and 75 percent.
To begin, set your target heart rate goal at 50 percent, with a long term goal of reaching that 75 percent.
Tips to help you add heart healthy activities into your daily lifestyle.
- Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise to stay hydrated
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator
- Take fitness breaks instead of cigarette or coffee breaks, stretch or go for a 10 minute walk
- Walk or bike ride to work
- Keep a pair of comfortable walking or running shoes in your car and office. You’ll be ready for activity wherever you go!
The type and extent of your heart disease will influence the type of exercise program you do.
As your heart becomes stronger, you will find that you aren’t winded walking up the stairs, you can perform physical activity longer, and your resting heart rate will be lower, meaning your heart is more efficient at pumping blood through your body.
In addition to exercising – stop smoking, reduce alcohol consumption and keep stress and cholesterol levels, diabetes, body weight and blood pressure under control.
Harmer, Steptoe et al., 2012, “Physical Activity and Inflammatory Markers Over 10 Years: Follow-Up in Men and Women from the Whitehall II Cohort Study”, Circulation, American Heart Association, http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early
Jeon CY, Lokken RP, Hu FB, van Dam RM, “Physical activity of moderate intensity and risk of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review”, Department of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public HealthDiabetes Care, 2007 Mar;30(3):744-52
Mody BS. Acute effects of Surya Namaskar on the cardiovascular & metabolic system. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2011 Jul;15(3):343-7. Epub 2010 Jun 22. [Accessed 14 Jan 2012] Available from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21665111
Kohut ML, McCann DA, Russell DW, et al. Aerobic exercise, but not flexibility/resistance exercise, reduces serum IL-18, CRP, and IL-6 independent of β-blockers, BMI, and psychosocial factors in older adults. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. 2006;20(3):201–209