According to the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, which followed 80,000 women for more than 20 years, just a half hour of brisk walking a day — that’s 30 minutes, or the time it takes to watch one sitcom — can slash your risk of a heart attack by 30 to 40 percent.
There are many reasons why walking is ideal for the core of your exercise plan. Among them:
Walking is safer than jogging. Because a walker lands with just one-fifth the force of a runner, walking is much easier on your joints and ligaments.
Anyone can walk. It’s a good option even for people who are pregnant, have arthritis, have heart disease, or are just recovering from a heart attack.
It’s inexpensive. A pair of shoes and socks are all you need.
You’ll stick with it. Only 25 percent of people who walk for exercise quit, compared to 50 or 60 percent of those who start other exercises.
You can do it anywhere, anytime. Bad weather? Walk in the mall. On vacation? Walking is a great way to see the sites. Overdue for an outing with friends? Schedule a scenic hike.
It’s easy to vary the intensity. To work harder, walk faster or walk up and down stairs or hills. Feeling tired or recovering from an illness? Slow it down.
In order to lower your risk of heart attack, gradually start walking at least 30 minutes a day (60 if you need to lose weight) on most days. On top of that you’ll look for opportunities to fit walking into the rest of your day.
Before you begin, find out where you stand now in terms of aerobic fitness. Walk a mile (that’s four laps around a high school track). Record how long it takes you and what your heart rate, or pulse, is immediately after you finish. Try this again in four weeks. Chances are your time, heart rate, or both will have improved. (If you walk faster as you get fitter, your heart rate may not decrease.) To take your pulse, place two fingers on your wrist near your thumb, or on the side of your neck just below your Adam’s apple. Adjust your fingers until you feel a strong pulse. Count the number of pulses in 30 seconds, then multiply by 2.