How does walking strengthen the heart?

The heart is a muscle with fibers that contracts and pumps blood with each heartbeat. During exercise the heart becomes more efficient and delivers more oxygen and nutrients to other organs. Regular walking can reduce the risk of a heart attack, lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, and raise (good) HDL cholesterol, lower blood pressure, helps manage weight, and improves your mood.
Making regular physical activity part of your lifestyle is one of the most effective ways you can improve your own heart health. Walking is a great way to introduce more physical activity into your life, as it is well tolerated by people at many different physical fitness levels and ages.

Physical activity such as walking can improve heart health by limiting the following disease states:
  • high blood pressure
  • blood lipid (cholesterol and triglyceride) abnormalities
  • stroke
  • obesity
  • type 2 diabetes
  • metabolic syndrome
What’s more, even if you already have heart disease, physical activity can help prevent further heart disease and may allow you to live a healthier and longer life.

Before beginning a walking program, discuss safety and goals with your doctor. If you have a history of heart disease, your doctor may want you to have a stress test prior to starting physical activity. A stress test monitors and records your heart’s electrical activity during exercise to determine the effects of exercise on the rate and rhythm of your heart.

It would not be specifically the walking which strenghtens the heart.  It is increase in heart rate which comes from the walking that does it.  I often tell me clients that the heart could care less what the form of cardio is, (i.e. bike, treadmill, eliptical, etc.) as long as it gets the heart rate up!

The other part of this is that in order for to indeed strengthen the heart, it needs to be performed at a certain level.  To begin with, check with you Doctor to be sure a cardio program is right for you.  The heart rate we would like to begin to maintain is about 65% of your estimated maximum heart rate.  This would be 220- your age. Multiply this number by .65 and then you have your first number.  I initially recommend maintaining this for atleast 20-30 minutes for the first 3 to maybe 4 weeks.

You can figure a range between the 65% as we mentioned above and 85%.  After the first 3 to 4 weeks, try to switch the program to where you are increasing your heart rate to the 85% mark for 30 seconds to 1 minute and then slow your pace down to allow the heart rate to drop back down for about a minute.  This would allow a good switch in the program, and possibly better results. 

The heart is a muscle that must be strengthened through regular activity to remain healthy. Cardiovasular exercises (including walking programs) are great to help increase your heart rate and make your heart stronger. When you engage in a regular walking program, your heart will become more efficient, bringing more oxygen and nutrients to your organs. The great thing about walking is that it is low-impact activity that, over time, will ease you into a higher level of fitness. In addition to making your heart stronger, walking has been shown to reduce bad cholesterol, reduce body fat, help with diabetes, and reduce blood pressure. Finally, walking has even been shown to improve mood, which can help people suffering from depression.  
Kathy Shain
Walking increases the amount of blood the muscles in your legs need to move. It is the hearts job to pump more blood to the cells, so with increased activity the heart has to pump more blood by increasing heart rate. As the heart gets stronger it will send out more blood with each heart beat decreasing a person's exercise heart rate. This trains the heart to become a more efficient and stronger pump.

Walking is not only good for your heart; instead it will be great for your heart! Walking will increase your heart rate which is a good thing. Your heart is a very strong muscle and in order to keep our muscles strong, they need to be put to work. When you heart is pumping, it will pump blood to your muscles and oxygen will also be pumped to your muscles. This result will help keep your heart strong and healthy so be sure to stay active!

Mary A. McLaughlin, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Walking is an excellent aerobic activity that temporarily increases heart rate and blood pressure, leading to greater efficiency of the heart. Current guidelines recommend brisk walking 30 minutes a day for all, and 60 minutes a day for those who need to reach their ideal weight. Aerobic exercise can aide in weight loss and therefore improve cardiovascular risk.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.