Are There Walking Benefits for Heart Health? New Research Says Yes

One simple change can make a significant difference.

walking benefits heart health
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  • If you’re taking a walk as a way to boost running performance goals with an active recovery day, new research suggests walking at a pace of 2 mph or more can reduce your risk of heart failure.
  • This may be due to the fact that you get more activity in a shorter amount of time, and that there’s a strong relationship between walking pace and maximal oxygen uptake, which is a marker for cardiorespiratory fitness.

    Whether you’re taking a walk as a way to boost running performance goals with an active recovery day or just grabbing a movement-filled lunch break, a new study in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society suggests you can make the activity more heart-friendly with one easy hack: Pick up the pace.

    Researchers looked at just over 25,000 women ages 50 to 79 over a period of about 17 years and found that those who walked at a fast pace of over 3 mph had a 34 percent lower risk of heart failure in that time period compared to casual-pace walkers at under 2 mph. Even an average pace of between 2 to 3 mph made a difference, with a 27 percent lower risk.

    The findings are particularly important for the group studied, which is menopausal and postmenopausal women, who face a surge in cardiovascular issues around that time—the American Heart Association reports that an overall increase in heart attacks among women is seen about 10 years after menopause, and that heart disease is the leading killer of women.

    In terms of why walking pace would make such a significant difference in heart health, the recent study’s senior author Charles Eaton, M.D., professor of epidemiology at the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University, told Runner’s World that the answer may be simple: You get more activity in a shorter amount of time. That is, you can see heart benefits at a slower pace, but it would take you a much longer duration to get the same boost as you would with a faster pace.

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    “Many people have reported limited time for exercise as a barrier for why they don’t get as much activity,” he said. Also, there’s a strong relationship between walking pace and maximal oxygen uptake, which is a marker for cardiorespiratory fitness, as well as higher muscle mass, another key factor for heart health among older adults.



    The results apply to men as well as women, according to previous research. For example, a 2019 study in the journal Atherosclerosis looking at nearly 22,000 male physicians over a 9-year period found that the faster the doctors walked, the lower their risk of cardiovascular disease became.

    “Other studies on walking pace and cardiovascular outcomes provide corroborating evidence that pace plays a unique role, and is a key dimension when talking about health benefits,” said Eaton. “What we’ve found is that even with less than one hour per week of walking, as long as it’s done at a faster pace, you’ll see improved cardiovascular health in older adults.”

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