Healthy Body

A Cardiologist Explains Why Walking May Be Just As Good For Your Heart As Running

Photo: Getty Images/Oscar Wong
You’ve probably heard that sitting is the new smoking, and that exercise can help lower the risk of heart disease. But if you’re under the impression that in order for cardio to count, it has to be high intensity like running, you may be delightfully surprised to learn that walking for a healthy heart could be all you need. It has a similar impact on the risk reduction of high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and coronary heart disease, according to a study in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology.

Running and walking are very important for cardiovascular health for multiple reasons,” explains Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy, MD, chairman of the American College of Cardiology Electrophysiology Council and executive medical director and professor of medicine at Kansas City Heart Rhythm Institute. “They provide physical exercise which would help burn calories, cardiovascular and muscular toning, improve heart rate variability, decrease blood pressure, increase endorphin release providing a positive internal modulation, decrease stress, and improve overall health.”

So one way to think about this is that running and walking will both get you to your baseline cardio fitness goals, but running will just do so faster. Right now, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (like walking), or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise (like running or HIIT)—or some combination of the two—spread throughout the week, as well as two days of strength training.

If speed isn’t an issue, though, walking does have its advantages: “It may be easier to fit into a person’s daily routine,” explains Regina S. Druz, MD, director of integrative cardiology at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn, New York. “It doesn’t require special shoes, and it can be done by those whose joints may be too aggravated by running or those who have cardiac symptoms or level of fitness precluding running,”

Perhaps the best thing about walking, however, is that it can truly be done anywhere—while you can go out for long dedicated walks, you can also simply walk up and down your hallway in your building, around your living room in your house, or even walk stairs repetitively. “Also, some data suggests that being lower in intensity, walking is more sustainable and leads to more visceral, or belly, fat loss, while running was more beneficial for overall weight loss,” Dr. Druz.

Walking is also a preferred method of exercise for the longest-lived people on Earth. “Walking is relatively easy and based on the current scientific data if a person can walk at least 30 minutes, three times a week, it provides sufficient physical exercise to keep the body active and healthy,” says Dr. Lakkireddy. So feel free to go your own speed.

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