How Walking Can Predict Your Risk Of Dying From Heart Disease

How would you describe your usual walking pace? These days, many apps can track your walking pace as you go about your day. The pace at which you walk can say a lot about your cardiovascular fitness, according to a 2017 study in the European Heart Journal. The study followed more than 400,000 middle-aged adults who had been free from cardiovascular disease and cancer at the start of the study. Along with other lifestyle, BMI, strength, and cardiovascular fitness measures, the researchers asked about each person's walking pace.

The researchers found that after six years, a person's walking pace was linked to the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. Even slow walkers with a low BMI had twice the risk of cardiovascular death compared to faster walkers with the same BMI. The researchers believed that the slower walkers with a low BMI might have been malnourished and could have age-related bone loss.

Walking and cardiovascular health

Other studies have found similar results. A 2006 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that walking at an average pace can reduce your risk of dying from heart disease by 24% compared to slow walkers. Even though these studies asked people to make their best guess of their walking pace, the six-minute walk test can look at your cardiovascular health.

The American Thoracic Society published the guidelines for the six-minute walk test in a 2002 statement in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. The test is done indoors in a 100-foot hallway that doesn't have an incline or any obstructions. You walk as far as you can in six minutes, taking any rest breaks if needed. The six-minute walking test can be used before a health intervention as a baseline and then followed up afterward to see if there's an improvement.

A 2012 study in Archives in Internal Medicine used the six-minute walking test to predict the risk of a cardiovascular event in people who had stable coronary heart disease. People who covered the least amount of distance in the six-minute walking test were four times more likely to experience heart failure, a heart attack, or death compared to those who could walk longer distances in six minutes.

How to improve your heart health

Of course, even if you practiced the six-minute walking test to cover more distance, the point is for you to improve your cardiovascular health. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, brisk walking for 30 minutes a day, five days a week will improve your aerobic fitness. If walking isn't fun for you, you can swap swimming, cycling, or tennis for your aerobic exercise. You can improve your heart health by reducing your body fat through resistance training twice a week. Stretching every day can improve your heart by improving the blood flow throughout your body, per the Cleveland Heart Lab.

Managing your cardiovascular health also includes some changes in your lifestyle, according to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. You'll need to control your weight and cholesterol levels through a healthy diet. Quitting smoking and drinking in moderation are also ways to reduce your risk of heart disease. Stress can also lead to high blood pressure, so find some healthful ways to manage stress.