April 2008 A subscription based eBulletin devoted to your Smart Heart Living.

In this issue: Walking for Fitness


Please talk to your doctor before you begin a new exercise program.

If you are living with heart disease you need to understand and adjust the intensity of your workouts so they are appropriate for your specific situation. While we provide lots of general information about walking, each individual must adapt it to his or her own circumstances.

This issue of the Smart Heart Living Bulletin is devoted to walking. Why walking?

The answer is simple... walking is, hands down, the best exercise you can do for your heart. That sounds like an extreme claim, but study after study has shown that walking, regardless of its intensity, has significant overall health benefits, and definite heart health benefits.

First, a few facts to back up this claim and to get you motivated to either start walking or to continue with your existing walking program.

Good news about walking

First, the good news: a 20 minute walk, at any speed or level, three times a week, increases your cardiovascular fitness.

More good news: walking is a low impact activity with a very low incidence of sport related injury.

Yet more good news: small increases in walking intensity have significant health benefits.

From our perspective, it's all good news! Here are some more points to ponder about walking.

Share Your
Walking Tales!

We encourage you to share your walking stories... perhaps you took a walking holiday, or maybe you've experienced weight loss or other health benefits as a result of your walking program. Maybe you have a humorous incident that can bring a smile to others? By making this an interactive community, we all benefit!

We'll post some of your comments and stories on the Smart Heart Living website.

Send us your story!

  • Regular walking can help you lose weight.
  • Daily 30 minute walks can decrease your risk of heart disease by as much as 30 to 40 percent.
  • Walking requires almost no special equipment or clothing... but we do recommend good walking shoes.
  • It can be done anywhere, anytime.
  • You already know how to do it! Although technique can be improved, most of us can already walk!
  • You can walk alone, with a friend or with a group.
  • Walking has many other health benefits. While we concentrate on the heart and cardiovascular fitness, walking is great for your overall health.

Not convinced yet?

There are so many benefits to walking that we could take the entire newsletter just listing them. But we want to spend some time discussing the various types of walking, the specific benefits of each, and tossing a few other goodies into the mix.

We hope you enjoy reading this... but most importantly we hope this will motivate you to get up and go out for a walk now! Of course a single walk should be just the beginning. The real benefit comes from starting and continuing with a regular walking program.

Walking vs. Running

Walking is sometimes thought of as the poor cousin to running. Nothing could be further from the truth! Walking is now widely accepted as a meaningful fitness activity.

As you will realize when you start and continue your walking program, the benefits are real! When you combine a walking program with good nutrition, you're sure to notice that you feel much better. And the low impact nature of walking will result in fewer injuries compared to running. You will be able to continue walking while many runners are nursing their running related injuries!

I know this from personal experience. My husband was a runner, and his running was plagued with knee pain and injury, resulting in a stop and start pattern that led him to abandon running. Eventually he took up walking.

Of course he needed to change his thinking about walking because, at the time, he was one of the misinformed who thought one needed to run to get any real health benefits! We now walk regularly together in good weather or take turns on the treadmill at other times. We even went on a walking holiday in Ireland!

Do I Need a "Program"?

If you can put one foot in front of the other, you can walk! So what's all this about walking programs?

As mentioned earlier, any walking has health benefits. But a walking program helps you set specific goals and then establish the regular activities that will lead you to those goals. For many of us, this type of structure is one of the best ways to stay on task and lead us to achieving our desired goals. The target or goal serves as the impetus to take action, especially on those days when it might seem easier to put it off!

So whether you want to lose some inches, reduce your BMI score, lower your blood pressure, shed a few pounds, or a combination of these or similar objectives, a program that is geared to those specific goals will get you there MUCH faster than simply having a vague idea of what you want to achieve. Your doctor or rehab team can help you set your goals and design the right exercise program... including walking.

Four Levels

For our purposes, we refer to four levels of walking. These levels are taken from our two favorite books on fitness walking: "Fitness Walking for Dummies" by Liz Neporent and "Fitness Walking" by Therese Iknoian. Each author refers to these levels with slightly different labels, but in summary they are:

1. Lifestyle or Health Walking - casual walking such as a stroll through a park. Generally at a faster pace than window shopping. In other words, it will elevate your heart rate.

2. Fitness Walking - walking at a fast enough pace to get your heart rate up to your target training zone.

3. Athletic or High Energy Walking - a variation on the sport of race walking. High energy walking that burns lots of calories without concern for the very specific race walk technique.

4. Walk-Run and Race Walking - here the two books differ. The "dummies" book introduces walk-runs while the other goes into more detail about race walking.

Neither of the latter two will be the focus of this edition of the Bulletin, but if you're interested, we've provided links to the books for your convenience.

What level is right for you?

Heart Rate Monitors
A heart rate monitor allows you to track your heart rate throughout your workout. It will tell you whether you are training below, at, or above your target.

This is important information!

Training at less than your target range means you are not getting the full benefit of the workout. Training above your target range could be dangerous, especially if you have heart disease and your doctor wants you to train at a certain level.

Here is a selection of heart rate monitors.

The best exercise is the one you do!

You are the best judge of where to start. The two most important things are, first, to begin and continue an exercise program and second, to not push beyond what is comfortable! This is a long-term program, so take it easy and be sure you are ready for each level before you move into it. If you overdo it you risk injury. This will set you back both physically and emotionally. Excessive soreness can also be a demotivator. So please set realistic goals.

Level 1

This is the walking we do every day. We use it to go from the car to the store, on our break to get some coffee or lunch, a casual walk with friends, walking with our children or grandchildren. If you are not currently engaged in a specific walking program this is the place to start!

How to begin
Take gentle walks for whatever length of time and/or distance is comfortable. We prefer to discuss time rather than distance as it is easily measured. It might be just five or ten minutes to start. That's great! Just get out and do those walks every day or every other day.

Gradually (over many weeks) increase the time for each walk until you're up to 30 minutes per walk. As you get more comfortable with your walking, gradually increase the pace so that you elevate your heart rate slightly.

Use the Smart Heart Living Fitness Log to track your progress and help you stay motivated.

Level 1 target heart rate: between 50 and 60 percent of your maximum heart rate.

Level 2

Calculating Heart Rates
Heart rate calculations should serve as guides only. Many factors influence your heart rate including medication, gender, and fitness level. Use these calculations as a guide only. Listen to your body and consult with your doctor!

Maximum Heart Rate
220 - (your age) = Max HR
Example: 50 year old
220 - 50 = 170 max. HR
Level 2 range: Max HR X .6 and .75
170 X .6 = 102
170 X .75 = 128

Level 2 target zone for 50 year old is 102 to 128 beats per minute.

If you are able to walk for 30 minutes three to five times a week, you're ready to gradually introduce "Fitness Walking" into your walking workouts. An effective way to do this is to incorporate short fitness walking sessions into your Level 1 walks.

Here's how: Once you're warmed up, about mid-way through the walk, increase your pace so that your heart rate moves into the Level 2 target range. Maintain this for about 10 minutes, then drop the pace to Level 1 and finish your walk.

Do this a couple of times a week, gradually increasing both the time within each session and the number of sessions in which you are doing Level 2.

Over time (and we stress that the time to do this must be adequate to allow your body to adjust) you will increase your Level 2 walking until this becomes your main fitness activity.

If you find that Level 2 is a good and comfortable pace and activity, and you are achieving your fitness goals, just keep doing it!!!

It is important to emphasize that Level 2 walking can be the main focus of the cardio portion of your exercise program! You do not need to move beyond Level 2 walking. In other words, this is not a progression from levels 1 through 4.

We recommend that Level 1 walks remain part of your routine on "easy" days and as the warm up and cool down portions of your walks.

Level 2 target heart rate: between 60 and 75 percent of your maximum heart rate.

Numerous walking/workout routines are detailed in the two books mentioned above. If you feel the need for further guidance we fully endorse either of these as excellent references.

The Last Word

One of the exciting things about walking for fitness is that it really is easy! You start at your own comfort level and gradually build.

The most important thing is to just get started! And if you're already walking, keep at it!!

Let us know how you're doing. Most of all, enjoy the great feeling that accompanies exercise.

Feel free to share this Bulletin with anyone you think would benefit from this information... You'll be doing them a favor!