According to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), approximately 610,000 people die in the US every year out of heart disease. In 2009, half of the heart disease related deaths recorded were in men. The most commonly reported type of heart disease is the coronary heart disease which according to records kills more than 370,000 people annually.
All Americans are at risk of developing heart disease irrespective of their racial decent. Smoking, high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure have been identified as the key risk factors and close to 47% of Americans have at least one of these risk factors. Other risk factors include lifestyle choices and medical conditions such as poor diet, diabetes, physical inactivity, obesity, and excessive use of alcohol.
In terms of the cost burden, statistics show that 16.67% of the healthcare dollars in the United States are spent on treating cardiovascular diseases. By 2030, this figure is projected to rise to over $818 billion annually.
Enhancing Heart Health through Walking Programs
Although it has long been known that walking is one of the best ways to exercise the body, studies on how walking programs can influence key biological indicators such as weight, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure have been yielding mixed results. This is according to Pamela Stewart Fahs, the associate dean professor Binghamton University, Decker School of Nursing.
In a bid to confirm the effects of walking programs in boosting heart health, Fahs together with Elizabeth Marigliano, a PhD student organized a volunteer participation in a walking program that brought together 70 women.
Each of the participants had a programmable pedometer which they put on during their walking hours for a period of 10 weeks. In each of the weeks, the participants were requested to walk briskly for at least two and a half hours. Two days into the program, the participants came back for a pre-test data recording and afterwards their chances of getting a heart attack over the next decade was assessed using a web-based risk tool.
Again, halfway into the program (5 weeks), a heart health talk was organized for the participants and during the same event, their pedometer data was downloaded. Based on the activity data, the researchers decided to increase the aerobic steps of the participants. In addition, the participants were challenged to increase their total daily aerobics steps average by 10% on the minimum for the remaining part of the study.
When the program came to an end, the researchers measured the blood pressure, cholesterol levels, BMI, and weight of the participants. A survey was also done on the physical activity, personal characteristics, food choices, and behavior of the participants for the duration of the program.
When the results were analyzed, it was clear that walking indeed improves cardiovascular risk factors at least in the short term.
Fahs also added that there is a need for testing especially on the effects of a built in challenge within walking programs to try and see if it helps in producing more successful results and motivating participants to keep in the program for a much longer period.
The beauty with this study is that it can be replicated in other areas both within and even outside the United States.
- “Heart Disease Fact Sheet.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June 16, 2016. Accessed December 20, 2016. https://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_heart_disease.htm.
- “Walk, Don’t Run, Your Way to a Healthy Heart.” American Heart Association. Accessed December 20, 2016. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/PhysicalActivity/Walking/Walk-Dont-Run-Your-Way-to-a-Healthy-Heart_UCM_452926_Article.jsp#.