What is one of the simplest and least expensive ways to improve heart function? Walking.


Walking is one of the least expensive exercises an individual can do; just put on a pair of sneakers and you are ready to go. It is also one of the most convenient of exercises. Walking can be accomplished just about anywhere, making it a popular favorite. The health benefits of walking are many. Brisk, consistent walking is an effective way to lower blood pressure and keep diabetes and bay, both of which in turn lower heart disease risk. Two expansive, long-term Harvard studies conjure that walking for about 20 minutes a day may cut your risk of heart disease by as much as 30%.


f53a0a6f4aed201338212558cf6133e3Some people still need that proverbial kick in the pants to start and stick with a walking program. One of the best ways is to find walking buddies, says Dr. Lauren Elson, physical medicine and rehabilitation instructor at Harvard Medical School. “I find that if I can get someone to walk with a partner—a spouse or a friend—that helps a lot.” Even better is getting several friends to walk together because they all hold each other accountable. “They call each other up and say, ‘Where are you?'” Dr. Elson says. For additional suggestions for group walking opportunities, see the websites of the American Heart Association (www.health.harvard.edu/walking-clubs) and Walk with a Doc (www.walkwithadoc.org).


pedometer-004Other people find motivation by using a pedometer to track their steps and distance, says Dr. Elson, who is also the medical editor of the Harvard Special Health Report Walking for Health (www.health.harvard.edu/walk). One study of 26 determined that people who used pedometers increased physical activity levels by nearly 27%, amounting to about 2,500 steps a day. Many stores that sell exercise equipment have inexpensive pedometers. With a smartphone, you can download a pedometer app such as Moves, Breeze, or Pedometer++.


If you use a pedometer, track your steps from morning until night. Take the average of your total steps for two or three days aiming to increase your daily total by about 1,000 to 2,000 steps. Increase your steps by the same amounts until you reach at least 10,000 steps per day.


If you have been whammed by a heart attack or been diagnosed with heart disease, walking is the perfect exercise; you can easily adjust your routine in conjunction with your fitness level. If you have heart failure, seek a cardiac rehabilitation program recommended by your Dr.


largeWhether you start a walking program on your own or with supervision, plan to start slowly and work gradually toward better fitness—, and follow these safety tips:

  • Always warm up with five minutes of easy walking to prepare your muscles and heart for exercise. At the end, cool down by slowing your pace.
  • Do not push through fatigue. If you feel tired or have any heart symptoms, stop.
  • Walk in an indoor shopping mall if it is too cold, too snowy, or too hot to exercise outdoors. Ask your doctor if you should take any additional precautions.


Therefore, my fellow travelers, couch potatoes one and all, what is left to say? If one has not been exercising, the eight-week workout is a sure bet. You will increase the time you are walking and work up to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week as well.  And so we’re on the same page, brisk walking is defined as walking as if you are in a bit of a hurry. Breathing rate should increase, but you can still talk in a full sentence that is if you are not functionally illiterate. Finally, good posture means good health; stand tall with your head up, shoulders down and back, and flabby abdominal muscles tight.


Get started walking

This eight-week program will take your walking from just 10 minutes a day up to 30 minutes, allowing you to build up gradually.

Week Sessions per week Warm-up (time and pace) Walking (time and pace) Cool-down (time and pace) Daily total Weekly total
1 7 3 minutes slow 5 minutes moderate 2 minutes slow 10 minutes 70 minutes
2 7 3 minutes slow 10 minutes moderate 2 minutes slow 15 minutes 105 minutes
3 6 3 minutes slow 15 minutes moderate 2 minutes slow 20 minutes 120 minutes
4 6 5 minutes slow 5 minutes moderate,
5 minutes brisk, 5 minutes moderate



2 minutes slow 20 minutes 120 minutes
5 6 3 minutes slow 5 minutes moderate,
10 minutes brisk, 5 minutes moderate



2 minutes slow 25 minutes 150 minutes
6 6 5 minutes slow to moderate  


12 minutes brisk,
3 minutes moderate
5 minutes slow 25 minutes 150 minutes
7 6 5 minutes slow to moderate  


15 minutes brisk 5 minutes moderate to slow 25 minutes 150 minutes
8 5 5 minutes slow to moderate  


20 minutes brisk 5 minutes moderate to slow 30 minutes 150 minutes



Marching orders: How to start a walking program. (2015, November). Retrieved from Harvard Health Publications HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: http://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/marching-orders-how-to-start-a-walking-program



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