Want A Healthy Heart? Walk, Don’t Run
The science is clear: if you want a healthy heart, start walking. For years, walking has been seen as running’s poor cousin, in terms of exercise value. While running can get you in fantastic shape and is a great exercise for many, walking is a superior exercise for many people for several reasons. First, you are more likely to suffer from a variety of injuries from running, including bad knees, twisted ankles, shin splints, and even foot problems. But because of it’s much lower impact there are far fewer walking injuries. A lot of data available shows that for many people, habitual running can be very hard on the joints. This is especially true for people who are over their ideal weight, since the impact from running is magnified with weight.
The research seems to support this view. There’s mounting evidence that very high levels of endurance exercise, such as repeatedly training for and running marathons, can cause small but very real coronary damage that builds up over time. A study in 2011 found that lifelong marathoners had a significant level of myocardial fibrosis, the very serious and irreversible scarring of the heart valves.
Additionally, a variety of studies show that running more than 20 miles per week may undo some of the benefits of regular exercise. A very interesting 15-year study looked at the overall mortality rates of 52,000 participants, who started out with a healthy heart, meaning no coronary heart disease, based on their running habits. While runners did have a 19% lower risk of all-cause mortality compared to non-runners, the details were surprising. The researchers expected to find that the benefits of running would rise to a certain point and then level out, with more running not necessarily giving more benefits. However, what they actually found was the surprise. After a certain point, the mortality benefits not only leveled out, they reversed, meaning that more running was actually undoing many of the health benefits of the exercise.
4 Ways To Improve Your Daily Walk
If a daily walk is part of your exercise regimen, then you’re already ahead of the curve! But are you walking the right way?
Pick Up The Pace
The type of walking that I recommend for getting the maximum health benefits, is brisk walking. That means a pace of around three to five miles per hour ideally (a 12- to 20-minute per mile pace). Judging by your breathing, you should walk at a pace that’s intense enough so that you can carry on a conversation, but you should not be able to sing. If you can sing a song, stop singing and pick up your pace.
Break It Up
Of course, to get the same distance walking as running takes nearly twice as long. Since walking in several short sessions has the same or greater benefits as one long walk each day, one great strategy is to break your daily walks up into several sessions.
Walk Before And After Meals
Walking in the morning before breakfast is my favorite way to start the day, rain or shine, light or dark. I like to think of a morning walk as something that takes no net time, because even if I’m investing 20 or 30 minutes walking, my productivity boost over the next two to three hours makes up for the time spent walking.
The time after lunch and dinner is also a prime opportunity to add some walking to your schedule. Walking after a meal helps reduce the spike in triglycerides that typically follows a high-fat meal, according to a study performed in Kyoto, Japan.
Take It Outside
While all walking seems to show benefits, I believe that walking outside, especially in green spaces like parks and trails, has additional benefits. Trees clear the air, and the air even just a few meters inside a park can be cleaner than the air in the busy streets around its borders. The sight of trees and nature can also clear your mind.
What do you do to make your daily walks more interesting?
The Power Of Going Barefoot
How often do you go barefoot? Our ancestors rarely wore shoes. In many parts of the world today, people do not wear shoes at all. We have come to associate being barefoot with poverty or counter-culture. But there’s some surprising new thinking about the value of going barefoot over constantly wearing shoes.
Introducing some barefoot time to your day can strengthen your feet, improve conditions like plantar fasciitis and, in my experience, reduce pain in the neck, back, and knee.
Of course, for feet that have spent most of their lifetime wrapped in protective shoes, barefoot walking can be quite an adjustment. The barefoot- or minimalist-style athletic shoes that reduce the amount of rubber between your foot and the ground brings some of the benefits of real barefoot walking, such as reduced joint pain and stronger feet.
Wearing shoes also disconnects us from the earth’s natural grounding current. It’s an extremely low electrical current that grounds the electrical charge of all things and beings connected to it. But wearing shoes with non-conductive soles has cut us off from this natural grounding current.
Being disconnected from the earth’s natural grounding current and associated stream of free electrons is one cause of the free radicals in our bodies. Free radicals are unstable molecules that cause accelerated cell aging. They have a positive electrical charge that is neutralized by the low but constant negative electrical charge of the earth. This counteracts the free radicals’ negative impacts on our health. Contact with the earth’s electrical grounding may also help maintain an optimum pH level within our bodies. And by reducing the free radicals, it appears that oxidative stress is reduced and healing is improved.
So, go for walks several times a day. Walk with a friend, when possible. And slip off your shoes for part of the walk so your feet can move, too.
How do you stay active?