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The Heart Benefits of Walking

To find the fountain of youth is a task that has captivated humans for millennia. Although eternal youth is an impossibility--for now--recent studies seem to point to at least one thing that can turn back the hands of your heart's clock at least: exercise.

Last year, a group of researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis revealed that the health benefits of endurance exercise  include metabolically younger hearts. The study's participants doubled their glucose uptake, which helps prevent the heart from becoming oxygen deprived and prone to heart attack.

How to Get Started

The phrase "endurance exercise training" may appear daunting--conveying the mental images of drill sergeants, endless drudgery, and a post-workout recovery involving tons of BenGay. Fear not, however, hour-long walks were among the activities the study's participants took part in three to five times a week.

In order to reap the health benefits that walking bestows on the cardiovascular system, you needn't complete the entire hour in one go; you can carve it up into two 30-minute, three 20-minute, or four 15-minute stints-whatever suits your daily schedule.

A brisk daily walk will not only boost your heart's glucose uptake, it will also make your arteries more flexible according to a study presented at the Experimental Biology 2002 meeting. Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder found that a group of postmenopausal women who walked 40 to 45 minutes five times a week increased the elasticity of their carotid artery nearly 50 percent. Here are two more studies hot off the presses concerning the heart health benefits of walking.

Take a hike or a bike to work. After reviewing data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill published an article in the July 13 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine reporting that active commuters--people who walk or bike to work--reap heart health benefits such as a low body weight, a good triglyceride level, and normal blood pressure. Of the 2,364 adults who took part in the study, nearly 17 percent used a form of active commuting to get to work.

Heart patients should walk long, hard, and often. A study conducted at the University of Vermont College of Medicine in Burlington found that the overweight cardiac rehabilitation patients who were required to burn 3,000 to 3,500 calories weekly rather than the standard 700 to 800 enjoyed heart health benefits like greater weight loss and markedly decreased their cardiac risk factors. To achieve this high-calorie-burning workout, participants walked 45 to 60 minutes five to six days a week at a moderate pace.