With so many different types of exercises moving in and out of the spotlight as trends come and go, it can be easy to overlook what may just be the best overall form of exercise: walking.
In addition to offering an amazing number of health benefits — from decreasing cancer risks, to lowering blood sugar levels, and even to living longer — walking really is a wonder drug. It is free, fun, doable in most settings, and easy to fit into almost any schedule.
Now, with a major study highlighting the astounding benefits of walking specific to older women, there’s even more reason to start walking (or walking even more) today.
Are You at Risk for Heart Failure?
Heart failure remains a major public health concern in the United States, as roughly 6.5 million adults are burdened with this condition. Essentially, heart failure is a condition in which the heart is not strong enough to pump a sufficient amount of blood to meet the body’s needs.
Moreover, the risk of heart failure increases with age, with women aged 75-86 years roughly three times as likely to suffer from heart failure compared to those women aged 65-74 years. It’s quite apparent that this condition demands our attention.
With these statistics in mind, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute funded a major research study over a fifteen-year period to analyze walking behavior and its associated health outcomes among women over the age of 50. The study incorporated 89,000 women who were between 50 and 79 years of age at enrollment and collected data regarding their walking habits and health outcomes from 1991 to 2005.
Participants completed questionnaires about their walking frequency, duration, and speed, as well as demographic and personal health information. In other words, this study was quite substantial and thus able to offer significant insight into understanding the impact of walking on heart failure as it pertains to all older women.
Major New Study Shines Light On Walking’s Heart Health Benefits
Before getting into the details, here’s the grand takeaway: walking significantly decreased the risk of heart failure in postmenopausal women regardless of their age, demographic characteristics, body mass index (BMI) or general baseline health.
Another interesting outcome was the finding that walking frequency, duration and speed all appeared to contribute to the overall benefits at roughly equal levels, meaning that women are free to choose the walking regimen that makes the most sense for them.
More specifically, women who walked at least twice per week experienced a 20-25 percent lower risk of heart failure compared to those who did not walk as regularly. Furthermore, those women who walked for 40 minutes or more per session similarly experienced a 21-25 percent decrease in risk compared to those who walked for shorter sessions. Lastly, those women who walked at a faster pace enjoyed an even better 26-38 percent lower risk of heart failure next to those who walked at a more causal pace.
As the findings were consistent regardless of individual characteristics, they can be generalized to apply to all women over 50, and therefore allow women to select the type (speed, length, or frequency) of walking that they prefer to obtain roughly the same benefit.
Are You Ready to Walk?!
If all of this positive news about walking has you feeling inspired and ready to start (or ramp up) your walking regimen, here are a few more helpful ideas and tips to get you moving:
First and foremost, find a way to make walking fun, whatever that means to you. It’s obvious, but if you’re enjoying what you’re doing, you’re all the more likely to keep going. Another common technique to explore is incorporating mindfulness and stress relief along with your walking, giving you the opportunity to exercise both your body and mind at the same time.
Or how about putting on your favorite music? Listening to music while heading out on your walk has been found to make it more enjoyable. Moreover, walking helps release feel-good hormones which is a helpful aid to overcome feelings of depression, all while offering a natural alternative to medication.
Walking truly is an amazingly accessible and variable exercise that most everyone can incorporate into their daily lives without too much difficulty, and even personalize to their physical abilities and fitness level. As the weather warms up and the days get longer (not to mention all of the mounting scientific support), there’s really no better time to start a walking regimen than now!