Every Step Counts
Heart Month is a good time to start walking, plus it’s no secret walking is good for you. In fact, medical experts say it’s better than running. Walking improves fitness, reduces pain, eases depression and fatigue, and helps with circulation and posture, and more.
It’s especially good for older adults.
According to a study published in the journal “Circulation,” older adults who walk three-to-four miles a day — 6,000 to 9,000 steps — are 40 to 50 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke than those who walk a mile (2,000 steps) a day.
This study focused on cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, and the findings were the result of eight studies using data from 20,000 people in the United States and 42 other countries. Their average age was 63, with 52 percwnt being women.
For years, the targeted goal was 10,000 steps, which originated in the 1960s from a marketing campaign to promote the Tokyo Olympics. While the American Heart Association still recommends 10,000 steps a day, the organization says that just a mile of walking also can provide health benefits.
For people 60 and older, the more steps taken, the lower their risk for CVD. The study found no connection between steps taken and the risk of CVD in younger adults.
“Heart health or cardiovascular risk increases as we age,” said Nancy Dagefoerde, a nurse practitioner with OSF Cardiovascular Institute. “So, if a person is sedentary, they’re adding to that risk, and it’s also important for balance and movement in general and just overall health and reduction of health problems. That’s why it is especially important for older people.”
If 6,000 steps still seems like a lot, don’t worry. Dagefoerde says the important thing is to get started and work your way up gradually.
“If you start at 2,000, and you begin adding on 1,000 steps, you’re showing health benefit, which I think is really important, because many people can’t do that many steps in a day for several reasons,” Dagefoerde noted.
You can choose between a slow walk and a more brisk pace. Dagefoerde reported the benefit of walking slowly is it burns more calories and is easier on the joints. Brisk walking helps fight developing heart disease, cancer, and dementia.
If walking isn’t your thing, don’t worry. Dagefoerde recommends other exercises that are just as helpful, including water programs, dance classes, chair exercises, using a recumbent bike, or try walking in place indoors.
“During an hour-long TV show, there’s 20 minutes of commercials, and they’re three-to-four minutes at a time,” Dagefoerde said. “So, if you can’t do a lot of walking at once, get up and walk for those three-to-four-minute intervals, then you’re getting some activity in.”
The bottom line is to get moving. Start by having a conversation with your doctor about the best way to begin any type of walking program.
“Do small amounts. It doesn’t have to be a great deal. Many people think if they can’t do a half hour or 45 minutes at once, they might as well not exercise, but you can actually break it up into three 15-minute workouts or three 15-minute walks. Even if you’re working, you can take a 15-minute break and do a little now and a little more later. Something is better than nothing,” she said.
For more information about leading a healthier lifestyle, visit OSF HealthCare.
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