There are seasons in life when a 15-minute walk is the most you can commit to your exercise routine—and, hey, that’s 100 percent okay. Maybe your job is more of a nine to nine than a nine to five right now, or childcare is monopolizing your free moments. Whatever the case, we asked a cardiologist to answer the age-old question is walking enough exercise? And the first thing you need to know is that the simple answer is yes.
According to cardiologists, the bottom line is that even the smallest neighborhood loop can have an immense impact on your health and well-being. The take home point here is that even 15 minutes a day of walking, without stopping, provides benefit with regards to cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Morbidity refers to illness or disease, while mortality refers to death. Research has associated 15 minutes of activity with a 22 percent lower risk of death (mortality), and walking with a 43 percent reduced risk in stroke and reduction the risk factors of heart attack (morbidity), regardless of how fast your heart is beating. Keep in mind, most of the research that has been done on the benefits of walking have been done without monitoring heart rates during physical activity. Remember, the Fitbit and smart watch apps are still actually a relatively new phenomenon. Long story, short: The morbidity and mortality benefits of walking seem to occur regardless of your heart’s beats per minute (BPMs).
With that being said, you can increase your cardiovascular fitness by increasing your heart rate and going longer distances—and that may offer even more benefits when it come to morbidity and mortality. Cardiovascular fitness or aerobic fitness can be defined as a measurement of the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to its muscles. VO2 Max, which is the maximum rate that oxygen can be consumed during exercise that increases in intensity, is the gold standard for measurement of fitness. However, it’s really up to you how “fit” you want to be. If you’re someone who wants to build up your VO2 max so you can run a marathon, fantastic. And if you’re someone who’s content with a brisk walk to your favorite coffee store, that’s also great.
The bottom line is, if you are walking to improve your health, do not worry about how high to raise your heart rate. If you are interested improving your cardiovascular fitness in addition to improving your health, then more vigorous exercise training will likely be necessary. It’s the choose your own adventure of fitness. And regardless of your choice, you’re still collecting those morbidity and mortality benefits as long as you clock your 15 minutes each day.