Just 2 Miles a Day: Walking For Fitness and Heart Health
Walking can be a great form of exercise. A regular walking program — combined with light resistance training — can help you stay healthy and feel better without spending hours in the gym. Walking is a low-cost activity that doesn’t require specialized equipment — just appropriate clothes, a good, sturdy pair of walking shoes, and a safe place to walk.
The best part of walking is the health benefits it provides. Let’s take a look at how it can improve your overall well-being and ways to incorporate walking into your daily routine.
Benefits of Walking
Studies have shown that walking, if done regularly, can be part of an effective fitness regimen for adults over the age of 65. “Simply walking two miles a day does as much for your cardiovascular system as working out and breaking a sweat,” says Dr. Herbert Semler, creator of the Heart Club app and a Mayo Clinic trained cardiologist.
Among older adults, walking is the most popular form of exercise. Besides being refreshing and offering an opportunity to socialize with a spouse, family, and friends, walking offers many health benefits, including:
- Preventing weight gain and complementing weight-loss efforts
- Strengthening muscles
- Improving balance and lowering the likelihood of falls and osteoporosis
- Lowering the risks of diabetes: Studies have shown that taking a 15-minute walk after eating can reduce the post-meal rise in blood sugar that some seniors experience.
- Lifting your mood: Like all physical activities, walking releases endorphins, which reduce anxiety and help you feel better about life
Perhaps most importantly, walking can improve your heart health. Increasing your heart rate by walking very day can reduce the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, and stroke.
Make walking a part of your routine
Starting a regular walking program is relatively easy. If you haven’t been exercising regularly, you may want to start out slow. Start with a 5-minute walk at a slow pace and then gradually build up to a two-mile walk.
After you become more accustomed to walking, try to walking faster. Your goal is to work about as hard as you do when walking up stairs. Don’t overdo it — you should be able to chat with your walking buddy. If you can’t talk and walk at the same time, you’re overexerting and need to slow down your pace a bit.
The key is to get started and stay at it. As the old sneaker commercial said, “Just do it.” Here are some tips to help get your new walking program started:
- Walk with a spouse or friend. You’re more likely to stick to a new walking routine if you have someone to walk with. If you’re having trouble finding a walking buddy or want to make new friends, some shopping malls, parks, or senior centers may have walking programs that you can join.
- Choose a good route. It’s usually best to start with a route that you’re familiar with, such as one in your neighborhood or a nearby park. Start with a flat route and, if you can, work up to routes that include hills or stairs. You can alternate routes to avoid boredom.
- Wear appropriate shoes. For most people, comfortable sneakers or walking shoes work well. If you want to ensure the perfect fit, you may want to buy shoes from a store that specializes in shoes for runners or hikers. The staff there will be well-trained about walking issues. If you have foot problems, you may need orthopedic shoes.
- Walk safely. Dress properly for the weather. Wear layers of clothes so that you can take off or put on a layer to remain comfortable. Walk during the daytime or in well-lit areas in the evenings. Watch for uneven surfaces and other tripping hazards. Bring a water bottle to keep hydrated, especially on hot days.
- Consult a healthcare provider. If you have ongoing health issues, speak with your doctor before starting a walking routine. Once you start walking, consult your doctor if you have any problems walking or experience pain — beyond a few minor aches when you first start out.
Counting your steps
A good way to measure how far you walk is to count your steps. Heart Club, our doctor-designed app, includes a step counter that helps you maintain a healthy lifestyle. This free all-in-one app helps you track your activity, check your blood pressure, and have access to important medical data — all on your phone.