Walking Programs for Healthy Hearts

Follow a walking program to realize the health benefits of walking

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

Many people ask, "Do I really need a program?"

A 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.

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 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
There are four levels identified in our two favorite books on 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 - 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 - at a fast enough pace to get your heart rate up to your target training zone.

3. Athletic or High Energy - a variation on the sport of race walking.

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.

What level is right for you?

Our suggested program for those living with heart disease focuses on just the first two levels.

You are the best judge of where to start. The two most important things are, first, to begin and continue a program and second, to not push beyond what is comfortable or safe! This is a long-term lifestyle change, so take it easy. 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 - to go from the car to the store, on our break to get some coffee or lunch, on a casual stroll with friends, or out in the neighborhood with our children or grandchildren. If you are not currently engaged in a walking program this is the place to start!

How to begin

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

Maximum Heart Rate
220 minus (your age) = Max HR
Example: 50 year old
220 - 50 = 170 max. HR

Fitness Walking
(Level 2)
target range:

Low: Max HR X .6
High: Max HR X .75

Low: 170 X .6 = 102
High: 170 X .75 = 128

Fitness Walking target zone for 50 year old is 102 to 128 beats per minute.

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 every day or every other day.

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

Download the free 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
If you are able to walk for 30 minutes three to five times a week, you're ready to gradually introduce level 2 into your workouts. An effective way to do this is to incorporate short level 2 sessions into your Level 1 walks.

How to begin
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 back to Level 1 for the remainder of your session.

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.

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 fitness program! You do not need to move beyond Level 2 to reap the benefits.

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 regular program.

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

Numerous 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.

What walking programs have you found? Has walking made a difference for you? Share your experiences with us!

Note: This section on Walking Programs was taken from a recent issue of the Smart Heart Living Bulletin. Click here to sign up for future editions of this free publication dedicated to YOUR heart health!

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