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The Number One Exercise Women Should Do to Stay Healthy

By Heather Maloney
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center staff

Everyone knows that a brisk walk is good for you, but what you may not realize is that numerous studies have shown that walking has specific health benefits. So when you take your walk today, you are:

1. Helping to control your blood pressure

Walking helps strengthen the heart so it can pump more blood with less effort and less pressure on the arteries. According to a study in the September 2006 issue of the Journal of Hypertension, taking short, brisk 10 minute walks four times a day can decrease your blood pressure for 11 hours, and taking a 40-minute continuous walk can keep it down for seven hours.

2. Decreasing your risk of heart attack

The 20-year Nurses Health Study found that walking three hours per week - that's just a half hour per day - is associated with a 30 to 40 percent lower risk of heart attack in women. "More women die of heart disease than men every year," says Dr. Connie Sweet, PT, DPT and physical therapist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "Even though we can't change the genetic factors that might predispose us to heart problems, we can adjust our lifestyle by taking up walking, which can lower your risk for a life-threatening heart attack."

3. Reducing your risk of breast cancer

A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute suggests that exercise has a protective effect, and may substantially reduce a woman's lifetime risk of breast cancer. "This is often surprising to many women," Dr. Sweet says. "But making lifestyle changes, like eating right and exercising, can lower your risk of developing breast cancer."

4. Boosting your good (HDL) cholesterol and lowering your bad (LDL) cholesterol

Cholesterol can cause plaque build-up along artery walls - a major cause of heart attacks. A study in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology found that walking an average of 60 minutes per day, five days a week has a positive effect on total cholesterol.

5. Lowering your risk of stroke

A Harvard study showed that brisk walking for an hour per day, five days per week can cut your risk of stroke in half. "Many women underestimate their risk for stroke," says Dr. Sweet. "Walking is an easy thing you can do to substantially reduce your risk."

6. Managing your weight

A 15-year study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2009 found that walking was associated with reduced weight gain and increased weight loss in women. "It has been well documented that walking, in combination with healthy eating, is a good way to keep those unwanted pounds off," Dr. Sweet says.

7. Protecting against hip fracture

Walking places stress on the long bones, which increases bone density and helps protect against hip fractures. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed a 41 percent decrease in hip fractures among women who walk at least four hours per week. "Walking is excellent for bone health," Dr. Sweet says. "Several studies of post-menopausal women have shown improved bone density in women who walk."

The bottom line?

"All in all, walking is the best exercise women can do to stay healthy," says Dr. Sweet. "And, it's easy, it doesn't cost anything, and everyone can make time for a short daily walk."

So what are you waiting for? Get out and walk today!

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

Posted September 2011

Contact Information

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