Walking is the simplest way to fit exercise into your life—and so beneficial

Walking is such a basic and essential part of daily life—something most of us do automatically—that it's hard to think of it as meaningful exercise.

But walking is actually an ideal way to get fit and improve your heart health. It's low impact, inexpensive, and can be done indoors or out. Best of all, research consistently shows that it's great for lowering blood pressure, helping with weight loss and weight maintenance, and improving blood lipids and blood glucose—all of which can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

The American Heart Association has recently launched their Start! Campaign to get the word out about the heart benefits of walking at www.startwalkingnow.org. And with a little planning, this natural and necessary activity can be your ticket to a higher fitness level and better heart health.

Getting Started on a Walking Program

Just about anyone can start a walking program, but it's a good idea to check with your doctor before you take that first step. If you haven't been active for a while or you have any particular health issues, your physician may suggest some precautions, such as not exceeding a specific heart rate. Here's what to do once you've gotten the all-clear:

Buy the right pair of walking shoes.

Choose supportive, comfortable shoes that are designed for walking. Grab the shoe at the front and back and bend it; the shoe should bend right near the ball of the foot, your foot's natural hinge point, and the heel should be stiff. For the best fit, you should be able to wiggle your toes without experiencing slippage in the heel, and the sides should be snug but not tight. Walking shoes usually wear out after about six months, so be sure to replace them at that point.

Scope out the walking route.

When walking outdoors, try to walk on solid, even surfaces. It's also important to avoid busy roads, because, in addition to the dangers of traffic, polluted air decreases the amount of oxygen that reaches your heart. And you don't have to be derailed by bad weather. Many malls have indoor walking clubs, or you might consider investing in a treadmill or joining a gym with treadmills or an indoor track. You can even walk right in your own living room using Start! Walking at Home videos, produced by Exercise TV in conjunction with the American Heart Association, at www.startwalkingnow. org/res_exercisetv.jsp.

Enlist a walking buddy or two.

Walking with someone will keep you safer—and more motivated. To find a walking group in your area, visit the website of the American Volkssport Association at www.ava.org. Your local Y or community center also may have walking groups.

Publication Review By: Roger S. Blumenthal, M.D. and Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D.

Published: 15 Mar 2011

Last Modified: 10 Jul 2013