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Heart Health Benefits of Walking

You're aware, as most people are nowadays, that physical activity is a major component of health. For so many, though, busy work schedules and commitments get in the way of integrating exercise into a regular routine. Everybody wants to be healthier, but for people who haven't found the time and energy to get going, the mere thought of exercising can be stressful. Thankfully, the simplest of physical activities - walking - makes a difference.

It might come as a surprise how widespread the benefits of walking are for your body. Did you know that a brisk walk reduces the risk of diabetes and hypertension, and lowers cholesterol levels? No matter how busy your schedule is, you should be able to fit a walk into your daily activities and find solace in the fact that you're taking steps to improve health.

The Importance of Heart Health

The American Heart Association (AHA) includes decreased risk of heart disease among walking's primary benefits. Why is heart health so important? Heart disease affects many Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and nearly half of all Americans have at least one of the main risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. While you can't address all these factors simply by walking, you are directly combating another risk factor: physical inactivity.

Walking for Heart Health

According to a study published in the AHA journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, exercise of both vigorous intensity (e.g., running) and moderate intensity (walking) provide similar benefits in lowering the risk of heart disease. After comparing data from more than 45,000 participants, researchers found that both used the same muscle groups and activities despite working at differing intensities. The more participants walked or ran, the greater the health benefits they reaped.

In some cases, the benefits of walking exceeded those of running. For example, hypertension was reduced 4.2 percent among runners and 7.2 percent among walkers. It also reduced the risk of coronary heart disease 4.5 percent among runners and 9.3 percent among walkers. In the end, both walking and running provide unique benefits, and while the study's authors conclude that "vigorous exercise seems more beneficial," it's clear that walking does make a difference.

A First Step

Some might believe that you have to get on the treadmill or hit the pavement for an hour to get in a worthwhile exercise session, but this task might be out of reach for busy people or people who haven't yet started exercising regularly. It's thus important to know that you can do a lot for your health - and heart health, in particular - by walking.

The great thing about walking for heart health is that, barring any health risks, practically anybody can do it. Heart disease is not inevitable - and it is preventable. By adding a period of brisk walking to your regular schedule, you're taking some preventive steps, no matter your age. If you start walking regularly, you may even decide to ramp up your exercise routines. Think of walking as a first step to better health.

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