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Women Can Improve Heart Health While They "Walk and Talk"

Increase the intensity of your walking workout by simply walking faster instead of carrying weights.By Heather Maloney
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center staff

Five days a week, 75-year-old Brookline resident Pat Black laces up her sneakers and spends an hour power-walking around the local reservoir, often with a friend. Concerned about her heart health, Black is motivated to walk, but says that having the company definitely helps.

"It's not work when you're with a friend," Black says. "Walking with a friend makes it fun."

Many experts believe that walking is the simplest change individuals can make to effectively improve their heart health. Research has shown that the benefits of walking and moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week can help you reduce your risk of coronary heart disease by improving blood pressure and blood sugar levels, maintaining body weight, lowering the risk of obesity and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Loryn Feinberg, Director of the Women's Cardiovascular Health Program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a cardiologist, agrees.

"Walking is a great form of exercise: it's easy, convenient, you don't need any special equipment, and most people can do it."

And adding a friend to the mix can keep you motivated and make it enjoyable, while re-enforcing your commitment.

"For someone who is walking for the first time, they need the prodding, and walking with a friend gives you the impetus," Black, who has been walking regularly for over 40 years, says.

While starting a walking program may seem daunting, Dr. Feinberg says that it's not the intensity of the exercise that's important. She also points out that your sessions can be interrupted--i.e., your 30 minutes of activity doesn't have to happen in one big chunk.

"The goal is to do 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five to seven days week," she says. "And you can start small: many of my patients, if they take the T, get off a few stops early and walk the rest of the way to work, or on bad weather days, they'll walk around the mall."

Dr. Feinberg recognizes that getting started is often the hardest part, so she advises her patients to start slowly, so they don't get overwhelmed.

"Start out by walking for 10 minutes, three times a week, and then build from there," she says. "Add five minutes a week and work your way up until you can achieve your goal."

And, she adds, age is no excuse--you're never too old to get moving.

"There have been studies on women who were sedentary and became active later in life," Dr. Feinberg says. "This was shown to lower the incidence of cardiac events later in life, so there is a benefit....it's never too late to start!"

Start Your Own Walking Program

Follow these simple steps to start your own walking program:

Step 1: Your safety is always a priority.

Moderate physical activity is safe for most people, but some adults may need to check with their healthcare provider first. Men older than 40 and women older than 50 who plan a vigorous program or who have chronic disease or risk factors for chronic disease should contact their physician to design a safe, effective program.

Step 2: Understanding American Heart Association recommendations for physical activity for heart health are key.

The American Heart Association recommends the following for heart health:

  • Moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activities for at least 30 minutes on most (and preferably all) days of the week. More vigorous-intensity activities should be done at 50-85 percent of maximum heart rate.
  • Physical activity can be accumulated (e.g., 10 minute sessions) throughout the day. It's important to include physical activity as part of the regular routine.
  • Moderate-to vigorous-intensity physical activity for at least 60 minutes most days of the week to help lose weight or maintain weight.

Step 3. Now that you know what your physical activity needs are, how do you know if what you are doing is enough?

One way of knowing whether your activity is moderate or vigorous is the talk test. The talk test method of measuring intensity is simple.

  • A person who is active at a light intensity level should be able to sing while doing the activity.
  • One who is active at a moderate intensity level should be able to carry on a conversation comfortably while engaging in the activity.
  • If a person becomes winded or too out of breath to carry on a conversation, the activity can be considered vigorous.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted May 2010

Contact Information

CardioVascular Institute at
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
888-99-MYCVI
617-632-9777

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