Patsy Cline went out walking after midnight to ease her aching heart. Although it might not have had the outcome Patsy hoped for, in actual fact walking at any time of day can be the best heart medicine of all. Walking really is the perfect exercise. Physical inactivity is a risk factor in many diseases, including coronary heart disease, particularly when combined with overeating and other unhealthy lifestyle choices. If you are strongly motivated to make good health a priority, yet have a lifetime pattern of not exercising regularly, walking is a good place to start changing those patterns. Walking is easy and almost anyone can do it. Once you have a walking program established, you can start to increase your physical activity.
Regular exercise is important to overall heart health, and even modest levels of physical activity can prevent heart disease. A recent study conducted among a group of people with no history of heart disease found that walking an hour a day increased the ability of major heart arteries to expand and contract by almost 50 percent. Other studies have shown that even 30 minutes a day, done regularly, promotes cardiovascular fitness.
There are many ways to make walking part of your daily routine. Walking can be combined with other activities that nurture the heart and soul. Walk as a family and enjoy quality time with your spouse or children. Walk with friends and be energized emotionally through interpersonal relationships. Start a walking club and exercise mentally with new friendships. Listen to music while you walk and nurture your soul, or put a recorded book into your iPod and expand your literary horizons.
Set goals and personal challenges so that you are walking with a purpose. For example, research how far it is to walk to specific location, then measure the distance covered each day until you’ve “walked” to that location. At 30 minutes a day, in one year you have walked from Las Vegas to San Diego and back!
In inclement weather, go mall walking. Many urban centers have indoor pedway systems. Too busy to walk for a 30-minute? Break it up into 10-minute segments at lunch or during coffee breaks or after dinner. Get in the habit of parking in the farthest parking space, or get off a few bus stops ahead.
Some research has indicated that walking among greenery, called nature therapy or ecotherapy, has particular health benefits. Walking on a river valley trail, in a garden, a park, or a treed area enhances health benefits. Mood improvement, reduction of stress and anxiety, increased self-esteem and motivation, lifting of depression, and general physical regeneration and emotional rejuvenation are associated with spending time in a natural setting.
Not only is walking good for the heart, it helps with weight control, general fitness, and reduces risk factors for many health issues, including diabetes and arthritis. No matter when or where you do it, the simplest and quickest change you can make to your lifestyle for improved health is: start walking!