A new year means new goals and resolutions. If being heart healthy is on your list of goals this year, walking is a good way to get there.
The American Heart Association notes that every hour of brisk walking could increase some people’s life expectancy by two hours. Research also shows that regular walking (at least 150 minutes per week) can help you think, sleep and feel better, reduce your risk of heart disease, improve emotional well-being, boost bone strength, and improve your memory, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
“Movement is medicine,” says Jon Fischetti, a certified fitness trainer at Edward-Elmhurst Health & Fitness.
And the heart, like any other muscle, needs exercise to make it stronger. Though it may sound counterintuitive, stressing the heart (through exercise) is a good thing, Fischetti says. In the simplest of terms, exercising prompts the heart to pump more blood out to the body, giving other organs the nutrients they need and flushing out the bad chemicals, he says.
For heart patients looking to add exercise to their routine, walking is often the easiest and most accessible way to achieve that goal.
Fischetti recommends first figuring out a target heart range. Many of Fischetti’s clients are somewhere in the 135-150 beats per minute (bpm) range, but each person is different. Age, gender and resting heart range determine the target heart range.
Work with your trainer or physician to figure out your own, or learn how to calculate it yourself. Fischetti recommends using wearable tech — such as a smart watch or a monitor with a chest strap — to track your heart rate during exercise.
Fischetti typically starts his patients out at 2 or 3 mph on the treadmill with anywhere from a 2 to 5 percent incline to get them in their target heart range for about 15 minutes. He notes getting in that target range may take up to 30 minutes (with time for warm up and cool down on the treadmill). After a week of about 3-4 sessions in that target range, he gradually increases the intensity.
Eventually, as the heart grows stronger, it can take longer to get to the original target heart range. You may then re-evaluate to see if your resting heart range has changed, and adjust your target heart range accordingly.
“That’s a good thing, because that means your heart is becoming more efficient,” Fischetti says.
The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity spread throughout the week.
For some, other issues such as joint pain or other injury may require extra caution. Don’t overdo it, Fischetti says, as pushing too hard can overstress the heart. “If you push it too much, you can do more harm than good,” he warns.
Be sure to talk to your physician about your exercise plan.
Some other key tips to remember:
The American Heart Association also suggests joining a walking club. Learn how to join or start a walking club.
To find out if you’re at risk for heart disease, take an online HeartAware assessment. Learn more about heart and vascular services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.
Get more tips from Edward Health & Fitness Center.
Step into a walking program: Start smart, walk strong
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