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Source: GreenWise, August 2004
Author: Kristy Erickson

Exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous to be effective. The “no pain, no gain” attitude can sometimes discourage people from exercising at all. While it’s true that aerobic exercise (dancing, swimming, jogging, and bicycling) gives the heart and lungs a continuous workout, brisk walking is also beneficial-and much easier to work into anyone’s schedule.

Walk for Heart Health

“The pace that feels right probably is,” reported researchers at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2003. “When it comes to fitness, a brisk, comfortable walking pace strengthens the heart.” When summer weather makes it too hot for walking outdoors, many malls offer air-conditioned comfort to walkers, often in the morning before stores open. Contact a mall or walking group in your area for details.

Walk Often

A sedentary lifestyle-along with cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol-are major risk factors for heart attack. Simple aerobic exercise like walking can do wonders for your heart, and research shows that this type of exercise is effective for lowering blood pressure too.

“You really can get your heart rate up to the level your doctor would recommend and you don’t have to jog or run to do it”, says Kyle Mclnnis, ScD, professor of exercise science at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. “Walking is commonly identified as the single most enjoyable form of recreational exercise”, Mclnnis adds, so try to walk every day if you can.

Move to Drop Pounds

Another major risk for heart disease is being overweight. Extra weight raises LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels and increases blood pressure, as well as the risk for Type 2 diabetes. In particular, abdominal fat (a potbelly or beer belly) is cause for concern. Abdominal obesity almost always lessens various tissues’ response to insulin, resulting in insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.

Reduce Your Risk

Regardless of your fitness level, genetic disposition, or your individual risk factors for heart disease, exercise is the way to keep your heart strong and healthy. “Increasing physical activity is key to reducing the risks for heart disease. Even if weight stays the same-and physical exercise is a big help in reducing excess weight-physical activity can improve blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol levels, and significantly lower the risk of death and disability from heart disease,” says Mclnnis.

Selected Sources:

“A Heart-Strengthening Pace: Brisk but Comfortable”, 11/11/03; “Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Health: Questions and Answers”, 11/24/03, American Heart Association, americanheart.org

“Effect of Aerobic Exercise on Blood Pressure…” by SP Whelton et al., Ann Intern Med 4/2/02

“Every Heart Attack is Preventable” by Michael Mogadam, MD ($13.95, Penguin Group/New American Library, 2001)