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Walking is Good for You. Here’s Why  

It’s no secret that walking is good for you. In fact, medical experts say it’s better than running. Walking improves fitness, reduces pain, eases depression and fatigue, and helps with circulation and posture, and more. 

It’s especially good for older adults. 

According to a study published in the journal “Circulation,” older adults who walk three to four miles a day (6,000 to 9,000 steps) are 40% to 50% less likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke than those who walk a mile (2,000 steps) a day. 

The study focused on cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk and the findings were the result of eight studies using data from 20,000 people in the United States and 42 other countries. The average participant’s age was 63 with 52% of them being women. 

For years, the target goal was 10,000 steps, which originated in the 1960s from a marketing campaign to promote the Tokyo Olympics. While the American Heart Association still recommends 10,000 steps a day, the organization says that just a mile of walking can also provide health benefits. 

For people age 60 and older, the more steps taken, the lower their risk for CVD. The study found no connection between steps taken and the risk of CVD in younger adults. 

“Heart health or cardiovascular risk increases as we age,” said Nancy Dagefoerde, a nurse practitioner with OSF Cardiovascular Institute. “So if a person is sedentary, they’re adding to that risk, and it’s also important for balance and movement in general and just overall health and reduction of health problems. That’s why it is especially important for older people.” 

If 6,000 steps still seems like a lot right now, Dagefoerde said the important thing is to get started and work your way up gradually. 

“If you start at 2,000, and you just start adding on 1,000 steps, you’re showing health benefit,” Dagefoerde said.  

You can choose a slow walk or a brisk pace, or do some of both. Dagefoerde says walking slowly burns more calories and is easier on the joints. Brisk walking helps fight developing heart disease, cancer, and dementia. 

And if walking isn’t your thing, don’t worry. Dagefoerde recommends other exercises that are just as helpful including water programs, dance classes, chair exercises, using a recumbent bike or walking in place indoors. 

Another idea is to get up and walk during TV commercials. There are usually 20 minutes of commercials aired 3 to 4 minutes at a time during an hour-long TV show, according to Dagefoerde. “If you can’t do a lot of walking at once, get up and walk for those three- to four-minute intervals, then you’re getting some activity in.” 

The bottom line is to get moving. Start by having a conversation with your doctor about the best way to begin any type of exercise program.  

“Do small amounts. It doesn’t have to be a great deal,” Dagefoerde said. “Many people think if they can’t do a half hour or 45 minutes at once, they might as well not exercise, but you can actually break it up into three 15-minute workouts or three 15-minute walks. Even if you’re working, you can take a 15- minute break and do a little now and a little more later. Something is better than nothing.” 

For more information about leading a healthier lifestyle, visit OSF HealthCare.  

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