Cardiovascular Health Without a Gym Membership
“I have two doctors; my left foot and my right.” – G. M. Trevelyan
I recently visited my parents in Huntsville. While up there I joined my dad for his morning walk. He set a healthy pace doing a 30-minute circuit before returning home. It was a great way to start the day. Did I mention that my dad is 86 years old? This hasn’t stopped him from being active. In the summer he golfs regularly and in the winter he curls. Unfortunately last summer he had a heart attack. Being the trooper that he is this didn’t slow him down for long. After his recovery from his heart attack he was enrolled in a cardiovascular education program where he learned that although he was getting out golfing three times per week, he wasn’t getting a true cardiovascular workout. A workout for your heart requires a sustained elevated heart rate for at least twenty to thirty minutes, four times per week. He took the Heart Smart program seriously, hence the daily walk. Not only have his energy levels and stamina improved, he tells me that he has tightened up his belt a few notches! So as you can see there are many benefits derived from walking.
As I joined him for his morning walk it really struck me that this is the perfect workout for many people. It requires no special equipment, no membership, and it can be started right from your own door. If you are like me, there was a time when you could “run” for cardiovascular health, but the impact of running becomes more of a challenge as the body ages. If you can still run, then keep it up. It is great for your cardio health. For the rest of us there is power walking. This dramatically reduces impact on your joints compared to running. How should you approach this activity? Well it’s pretty simple. The only thing that is remotely complicated is determining your heart rate during your exercise. Ideally you should shoot for reaching 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate during the walk. The basic way to calculate your maximum heart rate is to subtract your age from 220 beats per minute (BPM) For example, if you’re 55 years old, subtract 55 from 220, to get a maximum heart rate of 165. Seventy percent of 165 BPM is 116 BPM. What you can see here is that you are either going to need a heart rate monitor or else monitor your pulse occasionally to see that you are in your target heart rate zone.
Everything else is pretty simple. Just dress for the weather and get out there walking. Too cold you say? Well as I said my dad lives in Huntsville where temperatures often hit 20 below zero in the winter and he still gets out at 86. There goes that excuse!
Is it hilly where you live? You are lucky. This creates natural intervals for your workout. If it is flat where you are walking you will probably want to bump up your heart rate to a little better than 70% max at a few points during the walk to derive more cardiovascular benefits.
Are you concerned about your ability to get out due to age or due to joint issues? If in doubt, check with your doctor, but as I said, my dad is 86 and suffered a recent heart attack and he is putting in 30 minutes per day at this activity.
Concerned about slipping on the ice? My dad has solved this problem too. He wears a traction aid on the bottom of his boots. There are several companies making these products. They are in the twenty to forty dollar range and they just slip over your regular footwear. You will find product names such as WinterTrax or YakTrax available at Amazon.ca http://www.amazon.ca/Yaktrax-8006-Wintertrax-Size-Black/dp/B0018CEJWY In St. Catharines, Outdoors Oriented or Runners Edge both handle these products.
A proper exercise program should be a blend of muscle strengthening and cardiovascular conditioning. For more detail on this topic to find the right blend for you go to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention website at CDC Exercise Guidelines to tailor a program specific to your needs. For more on walking as a form of exercise go to my article Walking, The Oldest Form of Exercise.