Walk Your Way to a Healthy Heart
If you want to drop a few pounds, you probably already know that getting regular cardiovascular exercise is an integral part of any successful weight-loss regime. Just as important, though, is the effect that regular workouts have on your heart.
But it’s not as simple as lacing up your shoes and heading outside. For maximum benefits, you need to exercise intensely enough to challenge your heart—but not so intensely that you overdo it.
The idea is to condition your cardiovascular system, including your heart, says Arthur Labovitz, M.D., director of the division of cardiology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine in Missouri.
Getting your heart in shape produces both direct and indirect benefits. Indirect benefits include everything from weight loss to decreased bad cholesterol and decreased total cholesterol to increased HDL, or good, cholesterol.
But it’s the direct benefits that pay off in your day-to-day life.
“What happens when you increase your heart rate on a regular basis [with aerobic exercise] … your heart is better able to handle physical stress, so that your increase in heart rate overall will be less as you increase your conditioning,” says Labovitz.
See, your heart is a muscle, and as it grows stronger, it’s able to pump more blood with each heartbeat—which means it doesn’t have to pump as often. That means that it’s easier to run up a flight of stairs, carry in groceries, or play tag with your kids without getting winded.
When you exercise, measuring your heart rate—either with a monitor or simply by checking your pulse—can help you ensure that you’re exercising at the right intensity. Our workout plan below will help you condition your heart whether you’re a couch potato or a committed exerciser.
The first step is to calculate your maximum heart rate. The most accurate way to determine your max is by having it tested by a professional, but the standard formula used by the American College of Sports Medicine is 220 minus your age.
After determining your max (for a 35-year-old, it would be 185), you can determine your training zones by checking the following chart.
While a heart rate monitor makes it simple, you can also take your pulse by hand to check your heart rate. Press down with your first two fingers on the opposite wrist, and count beats for 10 seconds and multiply by 6; that will give you your current heart rate.
Most exercisers want to work out in the following three zones:
- 50-60 percent of max: the Stroll. Exercising at this rate strengthens your heart. If you’re just starting to exercise, this is a good place to begin. At this intensity, you should be able to carry on a conversation with ease.
- 60-70 percent of your max: the Hurry. This takes a little more effort, and is generally a low-key workout if you’re fit. Intensity-wise, imagine hurrying through a grocery store; you’re walking faster than normal, but can still talk easily.
- 70-80 percent of your max: the Rush. If you’re a regular exerciser, this is where you’ll spend most of your exercise time. Here you should be able to talk with some effort while exercising. If you can ramble on and on, you’re not working hard enough; if you can’t talk at all, ease off.
Keep in mind that if you exercise at less than 50 percent of your max, you won’t do much for your heart, and exercising at 80 percent or more of your max is only for the fittest people.
Remember to use proper walking form to avoid straining your neck or upper back (if you walk with your head down, for example, you’ll feel it the next day).
Good walking posture means head up, chest lifted, legs centered under your hips. Step onto the ball of your foot and push off with each step, walking heel, toe, heel, toe; your arms should swing naturally as you stride. BW