I cut my teeth on country music in college. Having come from Alabama, one would think that country music was in my blood, but it took a move to Nashville to have the country melody course through my soul. In a line from a country music classic at that time, Clint Black sang: “Walking away, I saw a side of you that I knew was there all along.” The song is a tribute to broken hearts, but who knew that walking away (or walking, anyway) could actually be good for a broken heart?
In a December 2013 issue of the medical journal, The Lancet, investigators of the NAVIGATOR trial asked what effect exercise really had on the heart. Studying over 9,000 participants with pre-diabetes and known heart problems (or a significant risk for heart problems) these scientists tracked how much their patients exercised. For a week at the beginning of the study, and then a week almost six years later, patients wore a pedometer to record their steps. For those patients who walked over 2,000 steps in a day (the equivalent of 20-minutes of sweat-producing exercise), their cardiovascular health was improved. Significantly.
Walking 2,000 steps a day reduced the risk of cardiovascular problems in these high-risk individuals by 10 percent. For those who pushed themselves even further (say 4,000 steps a day, or 40-minutes of exercise), the benefits continued to accumulate. These included reduction in heart attacks, reduction in strokes, and (perhaps most importantly) reduction in deaths from cardiovascular concerns.
The results sounded a warning bell for those who reduced their exercise or stopped exercising altogether: their risk of cardiovascular events actually increased.
This research is important and informative, but it is not new information.
Thirty years ago, results from the National Exercise and Heart Disease Project demonstrated benefits of exercise in men who had already had a heart attack. Fifteen years ago, a published trial on patients with congestive heart failure demonstrated that exercise training improved their health and their quality of life. A trial published five years ago looked at healthy men and women in Norway and found that consistent, short bursts of intense exercise reduced cardiovascular mortality (death) in those patients. Just this year, a published study demonstrated the benefits of exercise on elderly women who had depressive symptoms.
With so much clear and consistent evidence, the next question to ask ourselves is: what is holding us back from aerobic exercise? Benefits have been demonstrated in those with heart attacks and those with heart failure; additional benefits have been demonstrated in those with healthy hearts as well as those with broken hearts. The evidence is clear that consistent aerobic exercise has something to offer everyone.
In the final stanza of Clint Black’s classic country song, “Walkin’ Away,” he croons: “I’ll be looking for someone ‘til I find the right one, then I won’t be walking away.”
Regardless of where your heart has led you in life, medical evidence supports the advice to keep on walking.