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Walking your way to to heart health!

Simply walking can make a HUGE difference to your heart health and be a positive part of your cardiac rehab

All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.
Friedrich Nietzsche

A brisk walk for 30 minutes a day can reduce heart disease risk, possibly by as much as 30 to 40 percent.

The great thing about it is that just about anyone can do it -anywhere - anytime - and at their own speed. Even previously sedentary, middle-aged or elderly adults can get significant health benefits by simply strolling around the neighborhood every night. (If you want to get started but you are unsteady, consider using a cane or poles for more stability and to protect you from falling.)

Not only will you do your heart good, but you'll tone up, lose weight, and feel invigorated!

Be sure to start out slowly, increase gradually, and get advice from your health care professionals.

After my heart event, my cardiac rehab program said to start with five minutes on my treadmill, then increase to twice a day, and gradually increase the time. Eventually I settled in at 30 to 60 minutes at a brisk pace several times a week.

I continue to walk several times a week, every week - outdoors in good weather and on my treadmill when the weather is uncooperative.

Here's what you can do:

1. Follow a walking programfor greater success. Here's agood plan to follow.

2. Use a heart rate monitor to ensure you are within your target range. If you are not achieving your target rate, you won't get the cardiac benefits. If you are over your target heart rate, you may be putting yourself at risk. Using the monitor can give you extra confidence. There are many styles to choose from. Check out Amazon for wide selection ofheart rate monitors. Some combine monitor, pedometer and watch. Others include calorie counters. Many are now strapless.

What is your target heart rate? There are simple calculations to determine your target heart rate based on age, gender, and fitness levels, but if you are living with heart disease, we strongly recommend getting advice from your doctor or cardiac rehab team to ensure you are exercising in the appropriate heart rate zone. A simple formula for estimating your target heart rate is located here.

3. Get a treadmill if you live where the weather or other conditions can be an obstacle. My treadmill has been worth its weight in gold to me. I can use it any time of day or night and I enjoy watching movies or television while I exercise. Before I know it 30 minutes has zipped by!

A good source for factory direct treadmills and elliptical trainers isSmoothFitness.com. They ship their products throughout the USA, Canada, UK and Germany.

4. Set achievable goals. Record your activity. Use the Smart Heart Livingfitness log and reward yourself as you reach your goals.

5. Consider a pedometer to track just how far you've gone. If you are goal oriented, you'll enjoy monitoring your distances! Again, Amazon has a great selection of pedometers.

6. Get good shoes. It can make a huge difference to your comfort! And your comfort will affect your motivation.

7. Find a buddy. If you make a regular appointment to meet a friend you are more likely to do it... not to mention that visiting while you exercise is another way to make that time go more quickly and pleasantly!

Where to Walk?


If you participated in cardiac rehab, you probably used a treadmill.

Advantages: Treadmill workouts have certain benefits - such as being able to program your time, your speed, and your incline. You are not bound by the weather or concerns about safety. It doesn't matter if it's dark outside - you can exercise at any time of the day or night. And, you can watch TV or movies while you get your exercise.

Disadvantages: Not everyone has a treadmill, and it may not be feasible to even consider a treadmill if you have space or budget constraints. Some may find using a treadmill boring. Only one person can use a treadmill at a time so you can't walk with a buddy! (We tried but my husband kept falling off the back of the treadmill. Ha ha - seriously though - don't even try it!)


Advantages: Getting out in your neighborhood will not only help you get fit, but will also connect you with your community. Natural variations in the terrain will add to the benefits of your workout. Being able to vary your route can keep it interesting.

Disadvantages: If the weather is uncooperative you may put off exercising. If your community was not designed to be "walker-friendly" it may be difficult or even unsafe.


Parks generally have sidewalks or paths designed for pedestrians.

Advantages: A brisk stroll in a park means you are away from cars (no exhaust, no risk of being run over) and you can enjoy tranquil and beautiful surroundings.

Disadvantages: Depending on the park, there may be safety issues. It may not be a safe place to go after dark. You may not have a park close to your home.


Many communities have trails for walkers. In my community the trail system connects a network of parks but includes some sections through residential areas.

Advantages: Various routes are marked for your convenience. Often maps that show the routes and the distances are available. Check with your local parks and recreation department or government agency. Having a selection of routes allows you to vary your exercise and gradually increase your distance.

Disadvantages: Again, there may be safety issues. There may be places that are not safe after dark. If the trails (or segments of) are somewhat isolated, you could get into trouble if you are alone and encounter problems along the way. Carry a cell phone and identification. If the trails are not near your home, you may have to drive your car or take transit to get to the trail.


Local schools may have an outdoor track you can use.

Advantages: The surface is flat and stable. Many outdoor tracks have nighttime lighting so you are not limited to the daylight hours, and there may be other people using them - which makes them safer. It's easy to calculate your distance - the number of laps x the length of the track.

Disadvantages: School team practices and activities on the track will limit the availability. You will need to adjust your schedule accordingly.


Some health clubs have indoor tracks.

Advantages: Weather won't affect you. You can connect with others (which can be motivating and make the time go faster) and you can monitor your distance. If you choose to go out in the morning or at lunch time, you can shower and change before going to work.

Disadvantages: You will have to purchase a membership or pay a drop-in fee to use the track. Getting to the health club will add extra time to your workout - which may or may not be a concern depending on the demands on your time. Doing laps (especially inside) can can be boring.


In recent years, malls have become popular for walking groups.

Advantages: Weather (hot, cold, rain, sleet or snow) won't affect you. The floor surface is level and safe. If you are just starting out, you will be able to find benches to rest periodically. As you progress you can add some stairs to your regime. You can meet friends or join a group. You can reward yourself with a drink or a snack (heart healthy of course) when you are done. You can also run some errands while you are there - after your workout. Some malls open early to accommodate walkers. Some have clubs with events, competitions, and prizes. Check with your local mall.

Disadvantages: Mall floors are very hard - be sure to wear good shoes. If you exercise at a time when the mall is busy, you may have to navigate your way through shoppers. If possible, choose a time when the mall is quiet. Temptation to go shopping may be too great to resist!

Safety Considerations

When you head outdoors, there are a few things you should consider to ensure your safety.

  • Bring a cell phone so you can call for help if you need it.
  • Wear an identification tag on your shoe or have ID in your pocket, and include your medical condition (or wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace).
  • Wear light and reflective clothing at night
  • If there is no sidewalk or path, always walk facing the traffic.
  • Be defensive. Don't assume that drivers are watching out for you.
  • If you are wearing earphones, make sure you can still hear traffic and other sounds in your environment.
  • If you will be out more than 30 minutes OR if it is hot, make sure you take water with you.
  • If it's very hot or very cold, exercise inside on a treadmill or go to the mall.
  • When possible, go with a buddy.
  • These shoes were made for walking
  • Good shoes are essential for your comfort and success.
  • Buying the right shoes
  • Try on shoes at the end of the day when you feet are at their largest.
  • Try shoes on with the same socks you plan to wear when you head out.
  • Allow some room. Shoes that are too small can cause foot problems and make your experience miserable.
  • Try out the shoes in the store to see how they feel.
  • Ask for advice - especially if you tend to over pronate (your ankles roll inward). This puts a lot of pressure on your arches and ligaments and can lead to problems. You may need a specific shoe or inserts.
  • Look for shoes designed specifically for walking - not for running. Suitable shoes help propel you through the heel/toe motion of proper walking technique.
  • How do you know when to replace your shoes?
  • I found some recommendations that you might find helpful. If you walk:
  • 45 - 60 minutes three times a week you should get new shoes every five months
  • 45 - 60 minutes four times a week, replace your shoes after four months
  • 45 - 60 minutes five times a week, replace your shoes after three months
  • Don't go by how your shoes look - the treads may look fine but the interior structure and support of the shoe will have broken down.
  • One tip - mark the date of purchase on the inside of your shoe with an indelible marker as soon as you get home from the store with your new shoes.Is your routine getting boring?We're creatures of habit. It's easy to follow the the same path every time we head out. Yet eventually we all get bored with the same route or routine. Here are some tips to help you stay motivated and interested.
  • Change your route - explore a different part of your neighborhood.
  • Head for the country - get out in the countryside and soak in the sounds, smells, and scenery.
  • Have a destination - visit someone (sometimes we hike to our daughter's house which is 6 kilometers/4 miles away), to have some refreshment (at a coffee or tea house?), to attend an event, or to shop (don't forget your backpack).
  • Plan your routes using runningmap.com You can plan your route and know exactly how far it is, and even get details on the elevation changes.
  • Plan a walking vacation.
  • Consider getting involved with Volksmarch or Orienteering.
  • Why use a pedometer?

  • Because it's a motivator. Every step you take is recorded so you can see your progress - after taking a fitness walk, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or walking somewhere instead of driving - you'll see exactly what you accomplished. You can chart your progress week to week. And, just wearing the pedometer can be a reminder to get active!
  • Fitness trekking

  • Have you been exercising regularly? Are you feeling great and ready to turn up the notch? Consider fitness trekking. It's walking using trekking poles similar to those used when cross-country skiing. It may feel a bit awkward at first but you will notice the difference in the workout you get.
  • Fitness trekking burns more calories, plus it gives you an upper body workout as well as the lower body. You can control the intensity of your workout depending on how hard you push yourself.
  • You can give fitness trekking a try on your own, by joining a class, or you can buy instructional videos.
  • If you travel frequently, look for poles that retract so you can take them with you!

  • Walking - Pick up the Pace!

  • Researchers have found that older adults who walk slowly are three times more likely to die of heart disease than those who walk at a faster pace.
  • The research study followed a group of older adults in France for five years. They looked at whether people who walked slowly were more likely to die and of what causes.
  • The study included 3,208 healthy people ages 65 to 85. At the start of the study, each person's walking speed was recorded as they walked 6 meters (just under 20 feet). Researchers followed participants every few years to check on their health. After five years, 209 people had died, 99 from cancer, 59 from heart disease, and 51 from other causes such as infections and respiratory failure.
  • The slowest walkers were four times more likely to have died during the study than those who walked more quickly. When researchers looked at causes of death, they found that slow walkers were three times more likely to have died of heart disease than their peers. They didn't find a link between slow walking and other causes of death, including cancers.
  • The researchers made sure that no one in the study had a condition that could have substantially affected how fast they walked, such as Parkinson's or dementia. And to further test their findings, they factored in other criteria that can influence walking speed or risk of heart disease, such as age, weight, blood pressure, smoking history, and level of physical activity. Even with these adjustments, they found that people who walked slowly still had a notably higher risk of dying from heart disease.
  • Researchers can't fully explain these findings, but they do suggest that a person's movement and motor skills might be affected by thickening of the arteries, which can also cause heart disease.
  • The study was was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in November 2009. Researchers suggest doctors regularly test older patients' walking speed for an early indication of heart and circulation problems.
  • Remember: The best exercise is the one you do!


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