Heart disease remains the #1 killer for Americans. Staying fit is essential for heart health. The heart is a muscle that needs to stay strong and free from plaque buildup for prevention of heart attacks and stroke. Walking is the most common form of exercise practiced. It can decrease the risk factors for heart disease by lowering cholesterol, improving blood sugar control, assisting with weight management, and lowering blood pressure. The recommended amount of exercise for general health is 30 – 60 minutes 5-6 days per week. Walking the same route at the same speed is good for general health but may not continue to lead to improved heart strength. The heart needs to be challenged in order to respond to unexpected “stressors” during the day. For strengthening the heart, adding variations to a walking workout is helpful. This can be accomplished by increasing the speed of the walk, the amount of time walking or the intensity. One example is an interval workout. That can be performed by warming up with a 5 minute walk then increasing the pace to a level that is considered “somewhat hard” for 2 minutes then return to a comfortable walking pace for 4 minutes. Interval walking programs can vary in length but a common technique is to keep the intense portion of the interval workout to be half as long as the recovery time. The intervals can be repeated throughout the walking program. Adding hills and swinging the arms are also options to help increase the challenge of a walking program. For the exerciser that is trying to lose weight, interval-walking programs can also help maximize calorie burning. Fitness studies have shown that this form of exercise can be safe, however, it is important to consult with your healthcare provider or cardiologist prior to starting or changing your fitness routine. Good luck!

Carol Penfield, RN, MS, NPc is a nurse practitioner, certified personal trainer and owner of Chatham Health and Swim Club. She can be reached at 508-945-3555 or

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