Walking is Good For Your Heart

We all know that exercise can improve your health. But can walking and moderate exercise actually make your heart healthier? It can, and exercise can even reverse some heart disease risk factors.

Like the other muscles in your body, the heart becomes stronger as a result of exercise. It can pump more blood throughout your body and continue working at maximum level, if needed, with less strain. Exercise also improves cholesterol and fat levels including lowering LDL ("bad" cholesterol) levels as well as reducing inflammation in the arteries, helping weight loss, and maintaining the openness and flexibility of blood vessels.

A person who exercises often and vigorously has the lowest risk for heart disease, but any amount of exercise is beneficial. Run errands, walk the dog, take a lunchtime walk, catch up with friends or spend time with your significant other during an evening walk, or bundle up your kids and walk as a family.

It’s customizable. By changing up the time, distance, pace and route, you can create the right walking program for you. As your heart becomes stronger, you will find that you aren't winded walking up the stairs and you can exercise longer. Though any aerobic exercise is good for your heart, walking, running, swimming, cycling, and interval or circuit training are proven to benefit your heart.

In any case, it’s important to keep moving. Try doing some quick jumping jacks, push-ups or sit-ups while watching TV, dancing with your kids, or even your quickening your pace when doing housework. The American Heart Association recommends 30-minutes of moderate activity per day, but three 10-minute periods of activity are as beneficial to your overall fitness as one 30-minute session. Incorporating exercise is achievable!

"While experts debate which type of exercise is best for heart health, what’s beyond debate is that the more active we are the better. Physical activity improves essentially every aspect of heart and vessel function. It’s as close to a ‘magic bullet’ against heart disease as we have," said Michael Mathier, MD, medical director, COACH program, UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute.

Cardiac patients should definitely consult a healthcare provider before beginning an exercise program, especially before heading out in the cold, since exerting yourself in the cold weather does put an added strain on your heart. To learn more about heart health, visit UPMC.com/CheckYourHeart to find risk factor information and free community screenings.