Walk, don’t run, your way to a healthy heart

Walk, Don’t Run, Your Way to a Healthy Heart

By The American Heart Association Team

Summer is just around the corner and you are probably wondering where the first half of the year has gone. Now is a great time to make sure you fulfill that New Year’s resolution you made to yourself to take better care of your health. With it These days, we’re spending more time at work and sitting in front of a computer more screen than ever before. We’re becoming less active, which can increase our risk of heart disease, stroke and other diseases.

Take the first step to a healthier life by taking part in the American Heart Association’s National Walking Day on the first Wednesday in April. On this day, Americans are encouraged to lace up their sneakers and take 30 minutes out of their day to get up and walk. Every step you take is part of your journey to good heart health!

Did you know walking briskly can lower your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes as much as running? According to a study conducted at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Life Science Division in Berkley, Calif, all three conditions are risk factors for heart disease and stroke — but you can do something about them.

Researchers analyzed 33,060 runners in the National Runners’ Health Study and 15,045 walkers in the National Walkers’ Health Study. They found that the same energy used for moderate- intensity walking and vigorous-intensity running resulted in similar reductions in risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and possibly coronary heart disease over the study’s six years. The more people walked or ran each week, the more their health benefits increased.

Research has shown that walking at least 30 minutes a day can help you:

  •  Reduce your risk of coronary heart disease and stroke
  •  Improve your blood pressure, blood sugar levels and blood lipid profile
  •  Maintain your body weight and lower the risk of obesity
  • Enhance your mental well-being
  • Reduce your risk of osteoporosis
  • Reduce your risk of breast and colon cancer
  • Reduce your risk of non-insulin dependent (type 2) diabetes

There really are so many benefits for such a simple activity!

Walking is a great way to add physical activity into your lifestyle, it’s easy to do and it’s free! Before you head outside to start walking remember to keep the basics in mind, make sure you stretch before exercising, and that you are dressed appropriately for the weather. We all know that weather can sometimes mean the difference between heading outside and getting exercise. Don’t let the weather derail your commitment to regular exercise.

Here are some strategies to help you be prepared no matter what the weather is like:

Cold clothing strategies
On cold days, dress in layers to stay warm and remove layers as it warm ups.

  • The innermost layer should be made of a material that wicks moisture away from your skin, e.g., Coolmax®, Capilene® or Thermax®. Cotton t-shirts are fine until you start to sweat; then they hold moisture next to your skin and can chill your body.
  • In colder weather, you may need a middle layer for added insulation. Look for microfiber fleece and remember that wool stays warm even when wet.
  • The outermost layer should protect you from the elements. New fabrics help protect you from the wind and repel moisture while maintaining breathability. Jackets with hoods keep you dry on damp days so you don’t have to carry an umbrella.
  • Wear a hat or scarf to retain body heat around your head and neck. Don’t forget to keep your fingers warm! Mittens keep hands warmer than gloves. You can put them in your pockets as you warm up.

Don’t overdress. Being too warm will increase your body heat and leave you sweating inside your jacket. If you start out a little chilly, remember that you’ll warm up after the first 10 minutes. You’ll be glad you didn’t pile on the gear!

Hot weather wear
When exercising in hot weather, protect your skin by wearing sunscreen (a minimum of 15 SPF), sunglasses or a breathable hat or sun visor. Dress in light-colored clothing to reflect the sunlight. (Some fabrics such as Solumbra or Solarweave protect the skin from the sun’s UV rays).

Remember to slow down or shorten your walk on the first few days of a heat wave. Then gradually increase your distance and pace as you adjust. Staying hydrated and walking in shady areas will help you keep going longer.

Wear breathable fabrics
Cotton absorbs moisture and dries slowly. This means wet material against your skin. Synthetic “wicking” fabrics are better choices for shirts and socks. These are found in specialty stores that sell athletic clothing and running shoes. Wicking fabrics come under many trade names. Thin, double-layered socks can also prevent friction blisters.

Chafing can happen in areas where the skin rubs against itself such as on the inner thighs and under the armpit. Wear clothes that are thin (with flat seams) and snug, but not tight. If chafing becomes a problem, use petroleum jelly or products like Body Glide® (found in athletic stores or bike shops) to reduce the friction.

Be visible
Wearing lighter colors makes you more visible to cars at dawn and dusk. You might want to wear reflective clothing. Many brands of jackets and running shoes have reflective stripes to help keep you wearer safe. Reflective tape or vests (such as the orange reflective vests worn by many motorcyclists) are also a good idea for visibility. You can also carry a glow stick or flashlight.

It’s not all or nothing; it’s step by step. So start by setting a reachable goal today! Then you can work toward your overall goal of 30 minutes a day by increasing your time as you get in better shape. You CAN do it! Be sure to join the American Heart Association on Wednesday, April 1 by taking part in National Walking Day. Find out more at heart.org/nationalwalkingday.