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Walking is Good for Your Heart

It's a fact: you can improve your heart health simply by walking.

Study after study confirms that moderate physical activity -- such as walking -- is associated with a host of positive health results, including preventing heart disease.

Walking is a form of aerobic exercise and is one of the easiest ways to boost your physical activity and improve your health. Physical activity increases your heart rate, strengthens your heart, and improves blood circulation through your body, carrying more oxygen and nutrients to your organs. Physical activity also assists your lungs' capacity to take in oxygen, lowers blood pressure, helps lower body fat and improves blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

The key is to walk fairly briskly -- 3 to 4 miles per hour -- and for 30-60 minutes at least five days a week. This can cut your risk of heart disease by 40 percent. In order to lose weight, at least 60-90 minutes of daily, moderate-intensity walking is necessary, according to guidelines from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association.

Walking can also benefit those with a history of heart problems. Whether you have a history of heart disease or not, however, it is important to check with your doctor first before beginning any kind of exercise program.

Did You Know?

  • As many as 250,000 deaths each year in the United States are attributed to a lack of regular exercise.
  • Even previously sedentary, middle-aged or elderly people can get significant health benefits from simply strolling around the neighborhood every day. If your neighborhood isn't conducive to walking, try the mall, a health club or a home treadmill.
  • Your heart is a muscle. Exercise, such as walking, strengthens that muscle and makes it pump more efficiently, delivering more oxygen and nutrients to the other organs.
  • In addition to improving your heart health, walking can help prevent diabetes, hypertension, fight depression, help prevent osteoporosis and bolster your immune system.
  • Nonetheless, the vast majority of Americans is essentially sedentary. Less than one-third of Americans meet the minimal recommendations for activity as outlined by the Surgeon General. The recommendation is for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity -- walking 3 to 4 miles per hour counts -- on most, if not all, days of the week.
  • Performing the recommended amount of exercise is the equivalent of burning 600 to 1,200 calories per week.

What Studies Have Shown

  • Walking at a moderate pace -- 3 to 4 miles per hour for up to 3 hours a week or 30 minutes a day -- can cut the risk of heart disease in women as much as 40 percent, a 1999 Harvard study showed. The benefits to men are comparable. The benefits are the same as would be obtained from aerobics, jogging or other types of vigorous exercise.
  • Retired men who walked less than one mile per day had mortality rates twice that of men who walked more than two miles per day, according to a 1998 study in the New England Journal of Medicine.
  • Walking 30 minutes a day or engaging in other forms of moderate exercise will reduce your risk of dying of heart disease, even if you are unsuccessful in losing weight , reducing your high blood pressure or reducing levels of cholesterol, according to studies published in 2005 in Diabetes Care.
  • Activity, or lack of it, was the biggest predictor of heart disease, according to a 2004 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
  • An analysis of numerous studies on walking and heart disease concluded that the risk for developing heart disease decreases as the amount of walking increases. The 1999 analysis concluded that walking should be prescribed as an evidence-based, effective exercise therapy for heart disease prevention in the general population.
  • People with peripheral artery disease -- blocked leg arteries -- who took part in a treadmill walking program improved their ability to walk and their overall quality of life, according to a 2009 study by researchers at Northwestern University.
  • Heart attack patients who participated in a formal exercise program had death rates 20 to 25 percent lower than those who did not, according to an analysis of numerous studies.

Be Sure To...

  • Get a checkup before starting any new exercise program. If you already have heart problems, your doctor may want to perform tests to find out how much exercise you can safely do.
  • Get a good pair of walking shoes.
  • Start out slowly and increase gradually. At first, set a pace of about 3 miles per hour and walk for just 10 minutes.
  • After you have ramped up, do at least 2.5 hours of walking a week. One way to do this is to walk for 30 minutes a day five times a week. But the total number of hours can be reached in any increments convenient for you.
  • For motivation, walk with friends or pets.
  • Use a pedometer to count your steps. Wear it throughout the day and try to reach at least 2,000 steps (approximately one mile) at first. Gradually increase your number of steps by 500 per week. Ways to do this include taking the stairs instead of an elevator, or parking farther away from your destination than you normally would.

Posted May 2010

Contact Information

CardioVascular Institute at
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215

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