Brisk, Regular Walking Helps Lessen Heart Disease Risk, From the November 2015 Harvard Heart Letter

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A regular walking routine can lower blood pressure, stave off diabetes, and prevent heart disease. Finding walking buddies, using a pedometer, and following a walking workout plan may help people stick to a program.

Walking is a low-impact, do-anywhere exercise that helps lower blood pressure and stave off diabetes. And two large, long-term Harvard studies suggest that walking for about 20 minutes a day may cut the risk of heart disease by as much as 30%, according to the December 2015 Harvard Heart Letter.

But many people need some added inspiration to start — and stick with — a walking program. One of the best ways is to find walking buddies, says Dr. Lauren Elson, physical medicine and rehabilitation instructor at Harvard Medical School. “I find that if I can get someone to walk with — a partner, a spouse, or a friend — that helps a lot.” Even better is getting several friends to walk together, because they all hold each other accountable. “They call each other up and say, ‘Where are you?’” Dr. Elson says.

Other people find motivation by using a pedometer to track their steps and distance, says Dr. Elson. One review of 26 studies found that people who used pedometers raised their physical activity levels by nearly 27%, adding about 2,500 steps a day. Most stores that sell exercise equipment have inexpensive pedometers. Other options include smartphone apps that track steps, such as Moves, Breeze, or Pedometer++.

For people who’ve had a heart attack or been diagnosed with heart disease, walking is an ideal exercise because it can be easily adapted based on a person’s fitness level. People with heart failure should ask their physician to recommend a cardiac rehabilitation program to safely reap the benefits of exercise. This type of supervised exercise is particularly helpful for people who haven’t been active for a while.

Read the full-length article: "Marching orders: How to start a walking program"

Also in the November 2015 issue of the Harvard Heart Letter:

  • Cardiac rehabilitation: Best medicine for recovery
  • Heart-friendly holiday eating
  • When blood pressure dips too low

The Harvard Heart Letter is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $20 per year. Subscribe at or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).


Media: Contact Kristen Rapoza at information above for a complimentary copy of the newsletter, or to receive our press releases directly.

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Kristen Rapoza
Harvard Health Publications
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