Heart disease, which tends to manifest its symptoms as people grow older, can seriously affect quality of life including how youthful, strong and mobile we feel. Compromised cardiovascular health is a result of various high risk factors for heart disease. These factors most often build up over time and include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, overweight and obesity, poor nutrition, physical inactivity, excessive alcohol use, vascular stiffness and inflammation, and mental stress. Both the disease and the added stress of knowing that this long-term illness may result in a cardiac event such as heart attack or stroke make a direct and negative impact on the aging process. Let’s explore anti-aging tip #4 (which is also closely related to tip #3 on building lean body mass), walking for cardiovascular vitality.
Heart disease caused by plaque buildup causes impaired blood flow which may result in swelling of legs, feet, ankles or belly and even stroke, and it also deprives necessary oxygen supply for the heart and the rest of the body. This causes chest pain (angina) and impaired cellular function. Shortness of breath, fatigue and weakness may also result. Plaque may break off and cause a blocked artery resulting in a heart attack.
There are things we can do to delay, lower, or possibly avoid or reverse your risk of heart disease. Similar to our other muscles, it's quite possible to strengthen the heart and even reverse some of the heart’s aging symptoms. One solution is regular cardio exercise.
[The information in this article should not be viewed as medical advice as we are not medical professionals. We are shareing information and recommendations from and based on scientific publications and studies that are enumerated in the article’s endnotes. As always, when beginning any new program dedicated to health and which is new for you, first consult your physician.]
"Research continues to show that exercise is the best way to slow your heart's aging process," says Dr. Aaron Baggish, Director of the Cardiovascular Performance Program at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
Increasing exercise and physical activity are often cardiovascular physicians’ first prescription for improving overall heart health. This is because the exertion caused by physical exercise forces the heart to pump more blood throughout the body to the muscles and lungs. This process relaxes blood vessels over time causing the heart to function more efficiently. Both relaxing the blood vessels and creating greater ease of blood flow help keep blood pressure low.
Cardio workouts from beginner to advanced levels can be enjoyed at your gym on the treadmill or bicycle or just by walking consistently in your neighborhood. Fitness sources say you want to aim to walk briskly for a total of approximately 150 minutes per week. Many sources urge 5,000 to 7,000 steps a week however if you are just beginning to endurance walk, take it easy and build up to it. Perhaps walking to the end of your driveway or to your street corner is all you can do today. Tomorrow you will be able to take several more steps and every day you go out will build on the previous day’s accomplishment. Remember and live by the old adage: “By the yard it’s hard. By the inch it’s a cinch.”
Walking flat out improves cardiac risk factors.
A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that those who consistently engaged in a walking program demonstrated significant improvements in blood pressure, slowing of resting heart rate, reduction of body fat and body weight, reduced cholesterol and increased physical endurance. Realizing a better quality of life as a result of walking for heart health they also showed improved depression scores.
Walking is a perfect fitness prescription for inactive individuals because it is easily accessible to men and women of all ages and social groups posing little risk of injury.
Ultimately, our level of health can be determined by how long we can walk without getting winded. More specifically, endurance walking is one indicator of cardiovascular vitality.
Elevated cardiovascular vitality caused by consistently walking as briskly as possible also creates improvements in blood pressure and cholesterol levels, overweight and obesity, and even mental stress all of which are risk factors for heart disease.
Harvard Health Publishing. “Get Moving to Slow Cardiovascular Aging.” Harvard Health, www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/get-moving-to-slow-cardiovascular-aging.
Steinhilber, Brianna. “Why Walking Is the Most Underrated Form of Exercise.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 4 May 2018, www.nbcnews.com/better/health/why-walking-most-underrated-form-exercise-ncna797271.
Hanson, Sarah, and Andy Jones. “Is There Evidence That Walking Groups Have Health Benefits? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, BMJ Publishing Group Ltd and British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine, 1 June 2015, bjsm.bmj.com/content/49/11/710.
Murtagh, Elaine M, et al. “Walking: the First Steps in Cardiovascular Disease Prevention.” Current Opinion in Cardiology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3098122/.