WHAT: April 6 is National Walking Day, and a researcher with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health, is available to discuss the heart-healthy benefits of walking, which millions of Americans have found to be a fun, easy way to increase their fitness.
WHY: Studies show that a daily walk can boost cardiovascular health by lowering the risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S., as well as stroke, high blood pressure, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes. Walking also helps reduce stress and improve sleep, and it might even help people live longer. Research shows that these health benefits extend to many different population groups, including women, older adults, and African Americans.
WHO: Jerome Fleg, M.D., a cardiologist and medical officer in the NHLBI’s Division of Cardiovascular Sciences. He is an expert on physical activity and the heart.
Higher daily step count linked to longer life in adults
An NHLBI-funded study published in JAMA Network Open showed that taking about 7,000 steps per day lowered the risk of death by 50% to 70% in a large group of middle-aged men and women, when compared to those who took fewer steps.
In the study, researchers followed over 2,000 middle-aged adults, including a high percentage of Blacks and women, for more than 11 years using an accelerometer to measure daily steps. The participants were part of the NHLBI’s Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, a long-term study of cardiovascular disease beginning in young adulthood. Step activity intensity did not affect the risk of dying.
Walking may support healthy blood pressure levels in older women, African Americans, and help prevent heart disease
Walking at a casual to brisk pace for at least 150 minutes a week may help postmenopausal women reduce the risk of elevated blood pressure, according to an NHLBI-funded observational study published in Hypertension.
In the study, the researchers followed 83,435 older women, ages 50-79, from the Women’s Health Initiative for almost 11 years. They found that the women who walked at least 2.5 hours each week at a casual pace of 2 miles per hour (mph) had a lower incidence of hypertension compared to women who did not walk or who walked at a slower pace. Faster walking speeds – at a steady pace of 15- to 20-minute miles or at a power-walking pace of sub-15-minute miles – correlated with an even lower incidence of hypertension.
Similarly, an NHLBI-funded study also published in Hypertension found that regular moderate exercise like walking can help reduce the risk of hypertension in African Americans, who have disproportionately high risk factors for heart disease. Few studies had confirmed the protective effect of the exercise in this group.
One study recently published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that promotion of ideal physical activity, including walking, among African Americans may help prevent the development of coronary artery disease in this vulnerable group. The study includes participants from the Jackson Heart Study.
Walking helps promote weight loss throughout adulthood, particularly in heavier women
A 15-year-long observational study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that young people who walked more throughout adulthood gained less weight over time and were more likely to lose weight or maintain weight. The study used data from NHLBI’s CARDIA study, which included 5,000 young adults aged 18 to 30 years at its start. The participants were almost equally divided between men and women and Black and white adults.
The researchers found that increased walking was generally associated with less weight gain over time. In particular, the study showed that women who were the heaviest at the start of the study appeared to receive the greatest benefit from walking. For these women, walking about a half hour per day was associated with a reduced annual weight gain of 1 pound, or as much as 15 pounds less weight gain over the15-year period.
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