If you are one of those misguided sods who still believe in the exercise axiom: “No pain, no gain” – you can stop reading right now. The rest of you, rejoice! According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, taking a long daily walk may be a better way to improve heart health, lose weight and feel better compared to shorter periods of more strenuous exercise.
A randomized controlled clinical trial funded by the NHLBI compared two exercise programs for heart attack survivors:
- 1. Standard cardiac rehab exercise: 25-40 minutes of exercise three times per week at approximately 65-75% peak aerobic capacity. This included 25 minutes of treadmill walking and 8 minutes on 2 to 3 ergometers: cycle, rowing, or arm.
- 2. High-calorie expenditure exercise: longer duration but lower intensity, more frequent exercise (45-60 minute sessions, but at just 50-60% peak aerobic capacity, 5-7 times per week).
Walking, rather than weight-supported exercises (such as cycling and rowing), was preferred to maximize calorie expenditure, which was targeted at 3,000-3,500 calories per week. The protocol was essentially to “walk often and walk far.” All heart patients studied were considered overweight before starting the program. Each subject also received 16 hours of group dietary counseling, and were given a target goal of consuming 500 calories per day less than their predicted maintenance calories.
What did their results show?
The high-calorie expenditure (walking) exercise program participants had double the weight loss compared to those in the standard program (8.2 kg vs. 3.7 kg). They also had a greater reduction in waist circumference and in fat mass.
The high-calorie expenditure program participants had a greater improvement in their overall cardiometabolic risk profile, including a greater decrease in insulin resistance and a greater reduction in the total-to-HDL cholesterol ratio (13% vs. 3%).
The high-calorie expenditure exercise participants burned 615 calories per day from lower-intensity exercise for 45-60 minutes, as compared to just 169 calories per day for the standard program that emphasized less frequent and higher intensity exercise over 25-40 minutes.
Dr. Thomas Allison of the Mayo Clinic made this observation about this study’s results:
“The results are sufficiently worthwhile that serious consideration should be given to incorporating this research into standard clinical practice in cardiac rehabilitation.”
Read more about this cardiac rehab study.
NOTE FROM CAROLYN: I wrote more about the importance of cardiac rehabilitation – and moving your body every day – in my book, “A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease“ (Johns Hopkins University Press). You can ask for this book at your local library or favourite bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon, or order it directly from Johns Hopkins University Press. Use their code HTWN to save 30% off the list price when you order.
Returning to Exercise (and Training) After Heart Surgery (THE best and most comprehensive overview on this topic I’ve seen yet, written by cardiologist/triathlete Dr. Larry Creswell; especially useful for heart patients who have been regular exercisers before their cardiac event and are wondering how to safely resume their daily routine).