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How Walking Helps Your Heart & Brain

By eHealthIQ
Reviewed: May 16, 2017

Walking is more than a way to get from one place to another. It’s also vital to your general health. Along with strengthening leg muscles and improving lung capacity, a brisk walk has the ability to protect your heart and your brain. Here are a few examples of how setting aside time for walking every day will have a positive impact on the way your cardiovascular system and your brain and nervous system function.

Walking and Emotional Illnesses

The brain performs many tasks including triggering the manufacture of the right balance of neurotransmitters to allow you to maintain your emotional balance. The release of serotonin, dopamine and other neurotransmitters help to reduce emotional stress, prevent conditions like anxiety and panic disorders from developing, and improve your mood. If you already have anxiety or depression, walking can help improve your emotional well-being. Those same neurotransmitters play a role in maintaining cognition and decreasing the odds of developing dementia and similar conditions.

One of the great things about walking is that it encourages the brain to manufacture these neurotransmitters in a balanced fashion. It’s not unusual for mental health professionals to recommend walking as one of the treatments for any anxiety and other types of emotional illnesses. When used in conjunction with therapy and medication, it’s possible to overcome the condition and once again be able to function without the need for ongoing medical care.

How About the Impact on the Heart?

Like any type of muscle, the heart needs resistance in order to remain strong. Brisk walks encourage more efficient blood flow and cause the heart to pump faster. This action in turn reduces the risk of conditions developing that could lead to a stroke or heart attack.

While walking for a half-hour every day does not eliminate the need for other exercise or eating sensibly, it does help reduce the presence of higher levels of bad cholesterol in the bloodstream. It also encourages the increase of good cholesterol in the blood. Thanks to this factor, the heart receives the nourishment needed to remain healthy. Combine that with the increased heart rate that takes place during a brisk walk and your heart will remain strong for a long time.

Getting into the Habit of Walking

Even if you have not taken brisk walks in years, getting back into the habit will be easier than you think. Your first order of business is to visit your primary care physician and have a complete physical. This allows you to determine if there are any conditions that need to be treated before you undertake this type of exercise.

Once your doctor confirms that you are well enough for brisk walking, consider using the program developed by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. This approach helps you to structure those walks so you allow time to start slowly with shorter walks at a more casual pace. Over time, you build up to more vigorous walks that will allow you to cover two or three miles without feeling excessively winded. You’ll even learn the importance of including a short walk at a slower pace at the end of your brisk walk.

There is no doubt that walking is one of the simplest and most effective ways to start getting back in shape. See your doctor today and come up with a plan. In as little as a month, you will notice a difference in the way you feel and the amount of stamina you have at your disposal.

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