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Do Your Heart a Favor and Go for a Walk

Photo: Wednesday is National Walking Day, and Madison cardiologist Dr. John Phelan recommends a brisk 30-minute walk at least five days a week for everyone. He sees tangible health and well-being benefits. Photo credit: Dean/St. Mary's Health Care
Photo: Wednesday is National Walking Day, and Madison cardiologist Dr. John Phelan recommends a brisk 30-minute walk at least five days a week for everyone. He sees tangible health and well-being benefits. Photo credit: Dean/St. Mary's Health Care
March 30, 2015

MADISON, Wis. – This Wednesday is National Walking Day, a day the American Heart Association reminds people that there are countless ways to get healthier through exercise and walking is a great way to do it.

Dr. John Phelan is a cardiologist at St. Mary's Hospital in Madison, who says there are a huge variety of benefits to walking.

"It can keep your weight under control, it improves your circulation, it helps improve your blood cholesterol and keep your blood pressure down in the long run,” he points out. “It reduces stress. It can help you sleep more soundly."

According to the American Heart Association, walking has the lowest dropout rate of all forms of exercise, and Phelan says it's just a matter of getting started doing it.

Gyms can be intimidating to those who've never been a member, and can be costly. Walking is free and can be done whenever it's convenient to your schedule.

On National Walking Day, everyone is encouraged to take 30 minutes out of his or her day to get up and walk.

And Phelan has some advice for those who are not regular walkers.

"Walk briskly and try to be just a little bit short of breath as you walk,” he advises. “You should be working at it a little bit, and you should try not to interrupt your walk if possible, although for some people walking two or three times a day in 10 or 15 minute increments also can do the job."

Those who own dogs and walk them 30 minutes a day at least five days a week set a good example, because by comparison only about a third of those without dogs get that much regular exercise.

Phelan says he sees the benefits of walking in his patients who have had a heart attack or stroke.

"People who adopt an aerobic exercise program have lost weight, their good blood cholesterols have improved, their diabetes has improved,” he says. “With these lifestyle interventions they have a clear reduction in the risk of further heart attack, stroke, as well as a marked improvement in sense of well-being."

The American Heart Association has Heart Walks coming up this spring. To find one near you, go to heartwalk.org.

Studies show that for every hour of walking, life expectancy may increase by two hours.


Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI