Fitness Tips

5 Cardiologist-Favorite Walking Workouts for Heart Health

Kara Jillian Brown

Photo: Stocksy / Rob and Julia Campbell

Walking is one of the best low-impact workouts you can do to improve your overall health. Whether it’s a casual 20-minute stroll around your neighborhood or an hourlong hike up a mountain trail, walking aids in digestion, strengthens muscles, and is good for your brain. And according to cardiac surgeon Brian Lima, MD, walking is great for the health of your heart.

“Walking, when done on a consistent basis—at least times three-to-four per week for 20 to 60 minutes—improves heart health just like other forms of moderate exercise,” says Dr. Lima, director of Cardiac Transplantation at the Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital in Manhasset, New York, and author of Heart to Beat. “These benefits are achieved by reducing risk factors for heart disease that include cholesterol, blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes.”

When walking for heart health, you’ll have to do it for a bit longer than a higher-intensity workout to achieve the same results.

“Compared to running on a treadmill, for example, you’ll need to walk for a significantly longer period of time, say 30 minutes at a brisk pace most days of the week, to derive the same cardiovascular benefits from running on a treadmill for 20 minutes just three times a week,” says Dr. Lima. “On the flip side, walking is much gentler on your joints than running, so your risk of injury is substantially lower.”

If you’re wearing a fitness tracker, Dr. Lima says to sustain your heart rate at about 75 percent of its maximum capacity for at least 20 minutes. To measure by hand, you can estimate your max heart rate based on your age by subtracting your age from 220. While walking, set a 15-second timer and count the number of heartbeats then multiply by four. Take your pulse using two fingers at the inside of your wrist towards your thumb. (Don’t use your other thumb to measure, as your thumb also has a pulse that can make getting an accurate reading difficult.)

“The great thing about walking is that there’s plenty of options so you don’t need to go to a fancy gym with an expensive membership fee,” says Dr. Lima. “You can walk around your neighborhood, take the stairs at work, walk to and from work, to the supermarket, and the list goes on and on.”

To make more of an event out of your walk, try the below walking workouts.

The best walking workouts for heart health

1. Nordic walking

Although walking with poles looks like it’ll make your walk easier, it actually helps you engage more muslces. “When you walk without poles, you activate muscles below the waist,” Aaron Baggish, MD, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hosptial, tells Harvard Health. “When you add Nordic poles, you activate all of the muscles of the upper body as well.” Grab a set like the TrailBuddy Trekking Poles ($35) and get to walking.

2. Walking with arm exercises

Aside from signing side to side, your arms don’t do much when walking. Change that by adding on moves like bicep curls, arm circles, or swimming rows. “Often when we go on a walk, we can fall into what I like to call ‘the casual stroll,’” says Andrea Speir, founder of Speir Pilates. “By adding an upper-body element, you’re setting the intention of the walk as a full-body workout. Intuitively your pace picks up, your core and postural muscles engage, and your health results are improved and heightened.”

3. HIIT Walking

“Walking is an excellent form of cardio if you do it with intensity and intention,” says John Thornhill, a master trainer at Aaptiv. “A casual stroll in the neighborhood may not make you sweat or spike your heart rate, but if you incorporate HIIT into your walking routine, you can get more out of it.” Try alternating between a comfortable stroll and a power walk to get your heart rate up.

4. Indoor walking exercises

As temperatures drop, you can still get your walks in without leaving the house. Try this 20-minute workout with Holly Dolke where you alternate 30 seconds of walking with 30 seconds of bodyweight exercises.

5. Hiking

If you’ve got a nearby trail, head out on a hike. Even if you’ve never done it before, hiking can be a great way to get your heart rate up while you walk since you’ll likely be walking on an incline. “Hiking is not just good for us physically, but spending time outdoors and in nature is incredibly beneficial for our mental health, too,” says  Meaghan Praznik, head of communications at AllTrails.

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