The cardiovascular risk factors could range from high cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and blood coagulation to mental stress (1).
Walking by itself reduces the risk to a healthy heart.
Yes, it seems daunting at times to dedicate time to exercise in a work filled day. But, you will agree you can make 25-30 minutes here and there to walk. You can walk anywhere, anytime and at any pace. It does not even have to be continuous 30 minutes. Splitting into 3 of 10 minutes portion will work. You can walk inside or outside the house; walk from parked car to your cubicle or office.
Celebrate the joy of the quiet morning with the rising sun and you may take a 10 min walk with your coffee cup. Get your vitamin-D (2) during a short sensible walk on the mid-day sun with a bare body, during a lunch break. Rejoice the twilight with the setting sun with an after the work relaxation with a snack or two and add on some steps to your iPhone app or pedometer.
Doesn’t it sound simple! Of course, one can do better. These are effortless, fun and reduce the risk of your heart health long term.
What are the risk factors for this important organ “heart” which manages the oxygen and nutrient supply through blood pumping of the body?
How does simple walking help benefit the heart?
Let’s delve in.
Lowers Blood Pressure
High blood pressure can cause thickening and hardening of the arteries prohibiting the natural flow of blood to the heart. This leads to heart attack, stroke and other complications.
- Walk-exercise stimulates the blood vessels creating a relaxed blood pressure level that impedes the hardening of the artery.
- In a supervised walking situation, 529 adults divided into 5 subgroups based on their Systolic Blood Pressure (3).
The walking time for the groups was 5-6 days in a week reaching 300 minutes by 2nd month. There was a reduction of SBP across the board with significant reductions with starting a higher level.
Remarkably this walk reduced diastolic blood pressure (DBP, the lower number of the blood pressure reading), body weight, BMI, and waist circumference significantly.
High cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease and heart attack (4).
- Cholesterol is fat. Having too much cholesterol on your blood clogs the artery and the side walls. Walking helps in boosting our metabolic rate and increases our body’s ability to burn calories at a much faster rate depleting the fat.
- The National Walkers’ Health Study found that regular walking was linked to a 7 percent reduced risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Taking a brisk walk daily can improve your good cholesterol.
Improve Lipid Profile
Brisk walking with or without strength exercise could improve lipid profile. Elevated lipid profile can contribute to high bad cholesterol and low good cholesterol which is a risk to heart disease (5).
Regular brisk walking can be a low-cost, low risk, no drug intervention and practically possible undertaking for improving lipid level which is important contributing to heart health.
Lowers Fasting Blood Sugar
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Higher blood glucose levels are a risk factor for diabetes. Diabetes has ripple effects impacting your heart, eye, and feet.
Brisk walking for 15 minutes right after your major meal consumption stabilizes the blood sugar (7) as well.
Walking increases your heartbeat and you breathe a little harder. Your muscles use a little more energy which comes from glucose from your bloodstream eventually depleting blood sugar level. These benefits are realized after hours of work out. Be persistent in your walking and keep it up to realize the short and long term benefit.
The National Walkers’ Health Study also found that walkers had a 12 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
Reduces mental stress
Get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both preferably spread throughout the week.
Obesity (10) is an indicator of all of the metabolic symptoms like diabetes, high lipid levels, and heart diseases.
A study from the University of Warwick published in 2017 in the International Journal of Obesity confirms that those who walk more and sit less have lower BMIs, which is the yardstick of obesity.
Taking more steps a day is the most natural way to be in the desired BMI range. In the study, those who took 15,000 or more steps per day tended to have BMIs in the normal, healthy range.
Walking just after a meal seems to be more effective for weight loss (11).
Reduces Arterial Stiffness and Systemic Inflammation
Systemic inflammation may contribute to our ability to predict the future risk of cardiovascular disease (12).
“Exactly how inflammation plays a role in heart attack and stroke remains a topic of ongoing research,” added Deepak Bhatt, M.D. “It appears that the inciting event in many heart attacks and some forms of stroke is a buildup of fatty, cholesterol-rich plaque in blood vessels.”
. “But sustained low levels of inflammation irritate your blood vessels. Inflammation may promote the growth of plaques, loosen plaque in your arteries and trigger blood clots — the primary cause of heart attacks and strokes.”
Bhatt is chief of cardiology for the VA Boston Healthcare System, director of the Integrated Interventional Cardiovascular Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital & VA Boston Healthcare System, and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Low-grade chronic inflammation correlates with a higher incidence of several non-cardiac diseases, including depression, and chronic depression is now listed among the most important cardiovascular risk factors (13).
Walking reduces cholesterol, impedes the growth of plaques
Prevents Blood Coagulation
Walking exercises the muscles of the lower limb. This results in a pumping action on the veins of the limb, encouraging return blood flow to the heart and preventing stasis of blood and subsequent coagulation.
Enjoy this simple and natural movement.
You can start slow but slowly step up to lift the overall health along with the heart.
Exercise along with a healthy diet (15) is an important component of keeping you healthy.
Talk to your doctor if you have a heart problem before you start walking.