How Adding as Little as 17 Minutes of Power Walking to Your Day Can Improve Your Cardiorespiratory Fitness

Photo: Getty/ Brooke Pfifer
You can learn a lot about what your body is (physiologically) up to from your heart rate. I mean, have you ever raced to catch a bus or train and succeeded? Every time this happens to me, I collapse into a seat, simultaneously super relieved and feeling my heartbeat thud like thunder in my throat. Everyone’s heart is different, sometimes it slows down or speeds up, and where it rests depends on a lot of factors. If you’re looking for ways to help your heart do its job even better, a 2020 study from the European Heart Journal shares that just 17 minutes of power walking can improve your cardiorespiratory fitness.

"Cardiorespiratory fitness is the capacity of the heart and lungs to deliver oxygen to the body’s muscles and organs during physical activity," says Michael Weinrauch, MD, a New Jersey-based cardiologist. "Higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness are associated with the ability to perform [more] or higher-intensity exercise." What’s more, having a high cardiorespiratory rate is associated with lower cardiovascular and all-cause mortality—so it's a powerful metric for assessing your longevity and well-being.

A person’s cardiorespiratory fitness is measured by assessing their "peak oxygen uptake" or VO2 max. To capture this metric in the study, researchers performed a Cardiopulmonary Exercise Test (CPET) that involved sitting on a stationary bike while breathing through a mouthpiece. This measured the participant's lung strength during and after exercise. Even though you can't take a cardiorespiratory test without the help of a pro, this study had some findings you can incorporate into your own life for improved heart health.

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Researchers conducted the study on 2,000 people aged 45 to 63 and found that, by clocking an additional 17 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (like power-walking or jogging) each day, participants increased their peak oxygen uptake level during exercise by a full five percent. The research also showed that they could gain the same peak oxygen uptake level increase by walking at a relaxed pace for an additional 54 minutes per day or reducing 249 minutes of sedentary time every 24 hours.

The latter finding means that you'd have to spend four fewer hours being still each day, which—let's face it—just isn't reasonable for the vast majority of us. So if you do want to level up your cardiorespiratory fitness, you're probably better off with a fast-paced neighborhood walk, or a long leisurely stroll with a friend. And take note: If walking isn't your jam, Dr. Weinrauch says a ride on a stationary bike can also tick the box for casual or vigorous activity.

This is how a cardiologist uses a heart rate monitor: 

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