You probably know that regular physical activity plays a big part in heart health, but if you haven’t been active in a while, you might wonder where to start. Before you worry about joining a gym or signing up for fitness classes, remember that walking offers a simple, low-cost way to get active on a regular basis.

Regular walking can benefit your heart — and overall health — in many ways.

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How Walking Helps Your Heart

Walking is a low-impact activity that can help improve your overall health. According to the American Heart Association, regular walking can not only help you fight serious health problems like heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, but it may also lower your risk for osteoporosis, breast cancer, and colon cancer.

Whether you’re hoping to prevent heart disease or walking as part of a heart disease treatment plan, regular walking can help you control and manage several risk factors for heart disease by helping you:

  1. Lower your blood pressure
  2. Control your cholesterol level
  3. Manage your blood sugar level
  4. Lose weight, or stay at a healthy weight
  5. Cope with stress in a healthy way

Start Walking for Heart Health

Before you start walking for heart health, take a trip to your doctor’s office to make sure walking is a safe activity based on your medical history and fitness level.

Your doctor can tell you how often you should walk, and for how long. He or she may suggest that you follow the American Heart Association’s recommendations for physical activity in adults, which include:

  • 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity like walking at least five days per week for overall cardiovascular health
  • 40 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity like walking three to four days per week to help lower blood pressure and cholesterol

Once your doctor says it’s safe to start walking, all you’ll need is a pair of comfortable shoes. It’s also a good idea to wear comfortable clothes that are brighter in color, so you’ll be more visible to drivers, bicyclists, and other walkers.

Tips for Walking for Heart Health

  • Start slow. Go for a 5 to 10-minute walk at first, then slowly add more time or distance as you get more comfortable walking on a regular basis.
  • Break up your walks throughout the day If you don’t have 30 to 40 minutes, you can break up your walks into 10-minute sessions.
  • Set reasonable goals. Decide how often you want to walk and for how long. For example, you may want to walk for 30 minutes three times per week, then increase to four times per week or five times per week as you reach your goals.
  • Walk where you feel comfortable. You may want to walk in your neighborhood, at a local park, or at the nearest shopping mall. If you’re walking outside, stick to sidewalks or well-lit walking paths and always be aware of your surroundings.
  • Ask a friend to join you. Walking with a buddy can help you stay motivated and safe.
  • Consider joining a walking program or group. Supervised walking programs, like the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute’s Walk with COACH program, can help you stay motivated.

To learn more about the Walk with COACH and how walking strengthens the heart, visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484).

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.