From pumping your system full of mood-boosting endorphins to building muscular endurance to optimizing your oxygen uptake, the benefits of aerobic exercise are numerous, especially when it comes to keeping your heart healthy. Not to get too morbid, but heart disease is the leading cause of death among Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). On the bright side, though, walking is one of the best ways to show your ticker some TLC.
In fact, there are few better ways to ensure your own heart health than through the simple act of walking. Tom Frieden, MD, former director of the CDC, told Harvard Health that it’s “the closest thing we have to a wonder drug.” No prescription required.
But how much walking is necessary to reap those benefits? “Walking for 2.5 hours a week—that’s just 21 minutes a day—can cut your risk of heart disease by 30 percent,” according to a review by Harvard Medical School that synthesized research on the topic. Put another way, a 30 minute walk five times a week will improve your heart’s odds by 1/3 in the long run.
Cardiac surgeon Brian Lima, MD, explains that the benefits to your heart come by “reducing risk factors for heart disease that include elevated cholesterol, blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes.” Essentially, your likelihood of developing heart disease goes up when you have conditions that walking can help prevent. So walking attacks the root cause of the problem by strengthening your heart, as well as making you an overall healthier person by putting your body at less risk.
It’s also one of the easiest exercise habits to adopt. You can go for a jaunt around the block or take a visit to your neighborhood coffee shop like this editor who turned morning walks into her a.m. caffeine ritual—and reaped major benefits, aside from strengthening her heart. Or, you can spice things up with hills and intervals. Either way, these walking shoes will help you get the most out of your mileage (and your heart.