Several studies indicate that brisk walking may be just as good for your heart as more vigorous exercise such as jogging, running, or swimming.
One of the largest studies on the effects of exercise on heart disease prevention was published in The New England Journal of Medicine in August of 1999. The study consisted of 72,488 females from the Nurses Health Study (NHS). The participants were 40 to 65 at the beginning of the study in 1986. The study continued for eight years during which 645 coronary deaths (475 deaths from heart attacks and 170 from other coronary heart disease) were observed.
The researchers found a strong association between total physical activity and the risk of developing coronary heart disease. After adjusting for factors such as BMI, smoking status, and alcohol consumption, those in the top 20% for total exercise were 34% less likely to have a coronary disease event than those in the lowest 20% for total exercise.
The researchers found that their was little difference in terms of heart disease reduction between those who exercised vigorously compared to those who got their exercise from walking. Those who exercised vigorously for 7 or more hours per week were 24% less likely to develop heart disease than those who did not. Those who walked for 7 or more hours per week were 26% less likely to develop heart disease. Those who both exercised vigorously and walked for more than 7 hours each were 30% less likely to develop coronary heart disease than those who did neither.
The researchers did however find that brisk walking at a speed of 3 mph or greater was more beneficial than easy-paced walking at a speed of less than 2 mph. Those who did their walking at a brisk pace were 36% less likely to have a coronary event than those who did their walking at an easy pace.
Exercise has numerous benefits on the heart – it both raises HDL levels and reduces LDL levels, it also reduces body fat levels and blood pressure levels which are major heart disease risk factors. Exercise is also thought to improve the elasticity of the arteries which helps in the prevention of atherosclerosis.
Doctors generally recommend 30 minutes of exercise a day in order to receive the full heart benefits of exercise however studies show that less than a quarter of adult Americans get this amount of daily exercise.
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