So you put on extra pounds during the pandemic. Your cholesterol’s too high. Maybe you need to do a better job managing blood pressure. It can feel like a lot to tackle. But taking that first step toward better health can be as easy as … taking a first step. Literally. Just putting one foot in front of the other – as often as you can. There’s a wealth of evidence showing walking improves heart and brain health and helps people live longer. Individuals who walk at least 7,000 steps per day have a 50% to 70% lower risk of dying than those who didn’t, according to a study. Walking more than 10,000 steps is even better, lowering the risk of premature death from any cause among Black and white middle-aged men and women.
“Walking does several things to improve health,” says Barry Franklin, director of preventive cardiology and cardiac rehabilitation at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan. “It lowers your risk factors for cardiovascular disease, decreases body weight and fat stores, decreases blood sugar levels, modestly improves your lipid profile and reduces chronic stress.”
And it can be done almost anywhere – even inside your home or a local shopping mall if the weather’s bad or there’s no safe place to walk in your neighborhood.
“Walking is a great way to improve your health and your mental outlook, and it doesn’t take a lot of expensive sporting equipment to do it. Put on a good pair of shoes and grab a water bottle and you’re ready to go,” says Donna Arnett, a past president of the AHA and a dean at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health, in Lexington.
“It doesn’t matter how fast or how far you walk, the important thing is to get moving,” Arnett said in an AHA news release. “Counting steps doesn’t have to be part of a structured exercise program. Increasing your everyday activity, like parking slightly further from your destination, doing some extra housework or yardwork and even walking your dog can all add up to more steps and better health.”
But how much walking does it take to make a difference?
Dr. Felipe Lobelo, director of Emory University’s Exercise is Medicine Global Research and Collaboration Center in Atlanta, uses the acronym FIT to help people remember the important components of a good walking program.
“It stands for frequency, intensity and time,” he shares.
Frequency and time: How often and for how long?
Federal physical activity guidelines call for 150 minutes or more of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of