The following is provided by the KCMS Wellness and Prevention Committee and the KCMS Retired Physicians Organization in conjunction with February Heart Health Month.

By Keith Jantz, MD

We all hear about lowering risk for heart attacks by controlling risk factors like hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and tobacco use. But other minor changes in one’s lifestyle can lower the risk for heart disease and add to one’s longevity.

Studies now reveal that a sedentary lifestyle where no real physical exercise is performed on a daily basis may increase the risk for heart disease almost as much as smoking a pack of cigarettes daily. People demonstrate great creativity in their excuses for not exercising, such as being too busy, not enough time in the day with work and kids, too tired after a long day at work, arthritis or other musculoskeletal ailments, inclement weather in winter, etc.

But the solution here is easier than most people realize. Several studies reveal that walking for 30 minutes nonstop on a daily basis reduces one’s risk for heart attack by 20% in their lifetime. This 20% is a huge number in the cardiac prevention scheme of things, more significant than the benefit provided by some prescriptions your doctor may recommend.

Added benefits here include the fact that it costs nothing to take a walk and there are essentially no side effects to be concerned about like may occur with medications. Plus, only 30 minutes of your day is required. Unlike the two-plus hours it takes for working out in a gym that requires changing clothes, driving there and back, and changing clothes again after a shower, a simple walking program from your front door only requires 30 minutes out of your busy day.

To reap the cardiac benefits of a walking program, several aspects of how you exercise are critical for the process to be effective:

  • The walk must be nonstop and at a brisk pace, so no walking the dog or stopping to chat with neighbors.
  • While 30 minutes daily is preferable, you should aim for a total of 3-½ hours per week, making up any missed time for skipped walks or shorter walks by adding an extended walk later in the week. Sometimes busy weekdays prevent getting the full walk in, but that time can be made up with a longer walk on weekends.
  • Wear good quality walking or jogging shoes. Walk indoors in a gym or mall when the sidewalks are icy, but don’t use inclement weather as an excuse that will reduce your total weekly walking time.

Consider this idea for yourself and your patients.

It’s easy, safe, cheap, healthy, and it works! Happy walking!

Keith Jantz, MD, is chair of the Retired Physicians Organization of the Kansas City Medical Society and a member of the KCMS Wellness and Prevention Committee. He practiced for 32 years with Kansas City Internal Medicine and was president for six years. He served on the board of the American Heart Association Midwest Affiliate from 2010 to 2015. He can be reached at keith.jantz71414@gmail.com.