We all know that walking is good for heart health but, according to a study in the ‘British Journal of Sports Medicine,’ a brisk walk of 11 minutes a day or equivalent moderate intensity physical activity is sufficient to lower the risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.

The study adds that one in 10 early deaths could be prevented if everyone managed at least half the recommended level of physical activity. So, taking out 75 minutes a week doesn’t seem too difficult a target to meet and is achievable for even sedentary workers. Says Dr Mukesh Goel, Senior Consultant, Cardiothoracic and Heart and Lung Transplant Surgery, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, Delhi, “When we engage in brisk walking, the heart rate increases and breathing becomes faster and deeper, which can improve cardiovascular fitness over time. Brisk walking can also help to strengthen heart muscle, improve blood flow throughout your body and reduce inflammation, all of which can contribute to better heart health. However, as with any form of exercise, it’s important to consume a healthy diet, start slowly and gradually build up your intensity and duration over time, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or are new to exercise.” Here are more need-to-knows:

What is the link between heart health and brisk walking?

Regular brisk walks can help reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes. Additionally, brisk walking can be an effective way of maintaining a healthy weight or losing weight, which again has a positive impact on heart health. Excess weight can put added strain on the heart.

What is the science behind this new recommendation?

Several studies have examined the health benefits of brisk walking for 11 minutes a day. A study published in the ‘American Journal of Preventive Medicine’ found that women who walked briskly for at least 11 minutes a day had a significantly lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease compared to those who did not. Another study published in the ‘British Journal of Sports Medicine’ found that the routine was enough to improve cardio-respiratory fitness in previously sedentary adults.

A study published in the ‘Journal of Psychiatric Research’ found that this short-burst regimen was associated with improved mood and reduced symptoms of depression. The ‘European Journal of Epidemiology’ found a reduced risk of all-cause mortality in older adults. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate to intensity physical activity per week, which can be achieved through 11 minutes of brisk walking per day. And since it is doable, it can have long-term benefits for overall health and well-being.

Should you follow additional exercises like resistance training along with brisk walking to reduce the risk of heart disease?

While brisk walking is a beneficial form of physical activity for reducing the risk of heart disease, combining it with resistance training can provide additional health benefits. Resistance training, also known as strength training or weight lifting, involves using weights, resistance bands or bodyweight exercises to build muscle strength and endurance. This type of exercise can improve heart health by lowering blood pressure, reducing inflammation and improving cholesterol levels. In addition to these cardiovascular benefits, resistance training can also increase muscle mass, which in turn can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Resistance training improves bone density, which can reduce the risk of osteoporosis and fractures in older adults.

Therefore, combining brisk walking with resistance training can provide a more comprehensive approach to reducing the risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercises per week, along with at least two days of resistance training per week. It’s important to speak with a healthcare provider or certified fitness professional for developing a safe and effective exercise programme that is tailored to your individual needs and goals.

Should those with co-morbidities, especially diabetes, follow a different workout regimen?

For individuals with diabetes, exercise can improve blood sugar control, reduce insulin resistance and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, certain types of exercise may be more appropriate than others, depending on an individual’s health status and any complications they may have.

For example, people with diabetic neuropathy, which is nerve damage that can occur as a result of diabetes, may need to avoid certain types of high-impact exercises that can put pressure on the feet and increase the risk of injury. Instead, low-impact exercises like brisk walking, swimming, or cycling may be more appropriate. Similarly, people with heart disease may need to avoid high-intensity exercises while those with arthritis should avoid exercises that place too much stress on the joints.

Why brisk walking alone will not help if you are not following a healthy diet?

No exercise regime can be effective until and unless it is supported by a healthy and balanced diet. Consuming a diet that is high in processed foods, saturated and trans fats, as well as added sugars can increase the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and other chronic conditions even in a brisk walker. Include a variety of nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats.

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