Why walking alone isn't enough to prevent heart disease and what you need to do instead
March 26, 2024

Why walking alone isn't enough to prevent heart disease and what you need to do instead

by 
Rachel Wadsley, PhD
Fitness

In the United States, inactivity, one of the top five risk factors for heart disease, causes over 250,000 deaths yearly. Many people start with focusing on hitting a consistent step count as part of their daily routine. Walking has a lot of general physical and mental health benefits, including maintaining your ideal weight, boosting your mood, and improving sleep. 

However, "walking is INSUFFICIENT for blood pressure improvement. The heart rate level reached is too low for an adequate adaptation of the main artery, the aorta. Vigorous exercise is needed", says Tyler Read, CEO of Personal Trainer Pioneer.

Something is always better than nothing when it comes to exercise and overall health. Though, to reduce your risk of heart disease, the intensity and variety of what you do is equally important and beneficial! In this article, we will explore why you need to do more than simply walking if you want to prevent heart disease, and we'll dive into how to get started with a new training routine.

Leave the danger zone of inactivity

Are you tracking your steps? Are you recording how many minutes of exercise you get? Now, what about tracking the amount of time you spend you sitting? 

If you're like most of us, you aren't paying attention to that last one. We might think we're aware of our inactivity because smartwatches and fitness trackers will give us subtle prompts to get up and move. However, where in those apps does it tell us our total sitting time and movement patterns? 

Dr. Derek Larson, a board-certified internal medicine doctor and a certified hypertension specialist, says a "study including over 150,000 adults aged 59 to 82 years showed that replacing sitting time with exercise was associated with a decrease in all-cause mortality.”

Basically, ensuring that you're physically active can reduce your risk of coronary heart disease by 50 percent and reduce the risk of mortality by 25 percent. Those are some pretty good reasons to get up and moving, whether you're walking or partaking in other forms of cardiovascular exercise.

How much exercise do you need to do?

According to the American Heart Association, the gold standard for exercise is 150 minutes a week. Typically that is divided into 30-minute sessions, five days a week. But you can further break that down and find the best approach to movement for you.

You don't need to get in the entire 30 minutes in a single workout. You have the option to break it up over your day to reduce long periods of inactivity. This will get your heart and blood pumping more frequently. For example, you can do 7 minutes of activity three times a day, every day, as a way to help improve your overall fitness.

So what should you do to maximize your exercise time? Be sure to sprinkle in exercises and workout routines with different intensity levels.

How intense should your exercise routine be?

According to Dr. Sean Ormond, board-certified in anesthesiology and interventional pain management, recent studies have shed new light on the importance of doing more than light exercise. 

"Participants who engaged in a lighter exercise were the highest number to succumb to heart disease. This was unlike their counterparts who exercised more heavily, 62% of whom had not succumbed to premature death from heart disease," says Dr. Ormond. 

An important note is that higher intensity activities aren't necessarily high impact workouts overall. So even if you need to do low-impact exercises for health reasons (or simply personal preference), you CAN push yourself and do higher-intensity exercise. The trick is finding training exercises you like and can repeat on a regular basis.   

Alright, it's time to up your game and blend light exercise with moderate and vigorous intensity exercises. Not sure which one you're doing? Take the talk test and look at our list of examples below. 

Talk test:

  • Low-intensity: You can breathe and talk easily. Imagine you're walking while talking on the phone.
  • Moderate-intensity: You can talk while you exercises, but you can't sing (possibly a good thing if you sing like me).
  • Vigorous-intensity: You can only say a word or two before pausing for a breath during your workout. It's focus time! 

Examples of low-intensity exercise:

  • Walking
  • Gardening
  • Yoga
  • Swimming
  • Pilates
  • House cleaning

Examples of moderate-intensity activities:

  • Brisk walking
  • Water aerobics
  • Dancing 
  • Basketball
  • Biking (less than 10mph)
  • Hiking
  • Weight lifting
  • Resistance training
  • Mowing

Examples of vigorous-intensity aerobic activities:

  • Speed walking
  • Running
  • Aerobics
  • Jumping rope
  • Cycling (over 10 mph)
  • HIIT
  • Climbing stairs

Use FITT to plan your workouts

Frequency:

  • How often do you want to exercise?
  • What workout routine is doable right now?
  • How can you build up to your goal number of workout sessions/ days?

Intensity:

  • Try doing a combination of low and moderate-intensity exercise. 
  • Add in high intensity workouts as your health allows.
  • Measure the intensity using the talk test.

Time:

  • How many minutes will you exercise during the week?
  • How many minutes each day will you train?
  • How will you spread that out over your day?

Type:

  • What low-intensity workouts do you like?
  • What moderate-intensity workouts do you enjoy?
  • What high-intensity workouts do you want to do?
  • These can include different intensities across strength training, bodyweight routines, cardio workouts, aerobic exercise, and more!

Create a custom fitness program

You know the value of being active and adding variety and routine to your workouts. Now it's time to get the ball rolling. The FITT model helps you brainstorm what suits your life. We have an article about getting started with heart-healthy exercise to give you more ideas, so that you can reap the unique benefits that come from working hard, lowering blood pressure as needed, reducing body fat, and feeling more positive about your body overall.

Making lifestyle changes can be overwhelming, and staying consistent with fitness is hard work. But you don't have to do this alone! People with accountability partners and trainers are 9X more successful in reaching their fitness goals. That’s why we love the work we do at trainwell (formerly CoPilot). 

Our fitness trainers create custom plans made for your life, needs, and preferences. Do you love weight training? We've got you covered with a consistent strength training routine. Prefer resistance bands or body weight exercises? Great, we're here to help. If you hate running, no problem. Do you need something you can do with minimal to no equipment? Your trainer has your back. There are no cookie-cutter workouts or exercise moves you can't do. 

Click here to find your trainer today and take a step towards improving your heart health!

Learn more about the article experts:

Tyler Read, CEO of Personal Trainer Pioneer. Visit his website https://www.ptpioneer.com/

Dr. Derek Larson, board certified in internal medicine and a certified hypertension specialist. Visit his website http://www.stlkidney.com

Dr. Sean Ormond, dual board-certified in anesthesiology and interventional pain management. Visit his website at https://atlaspainspecialists.com/ and follow him on Instagram @atlaspainspecialists

Written by Rachel Wadsley, PhD

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