Your Heart’s Desire: Workouts for a Healthy Heart
“The heart has reasons that reason does not understand.”
– Jacques Benigne Bossuel
“Listen to your heart” is usually an admonition to listen to your deeper emotions and desires, but with the health crises of today, “listen to your heart” should be a reminder to pay attention to the health of this vital organ whose moment-to-moment work keeps you alive. Heart disease is the number one killer in the world, many of those lives lost prematurely to a preventable condition. Walking 4-5 times a week not only prolongs your life, but increases your health and the quality of your life as well. If you listen to your heart both literally and metaphorically, it will speak well for your whole body and being which crave fresh air and regular exercise.
Aerobic and Cardio ChiWalking Workouts
There are two walking workouts that keep your heart, as well as your mind, digestive system, immune system and nervous system, functioning at optimal health: the cardio workout and the aerobic workout. Here’s a brief overview of these walks and their benefits. For a complete guide, refer to our ChiWalking book & DVD.
The Aerobic Walk
The aerobic workout should be your primary type of fitness walking. It is the long, steady, consistent walk that supports the heart by strengthening the delivery system that transports blood and oxygen to your muscles and organs. When you walk consistently for 30-60 or more minutes, you build more capillary beds in your lungs and muscles, which creates greater efficiency for your heart as it pumps blood throughout your body.
Your aerobic walking should be done at a moderate, but not too slow pace. Using a metronome, you could be walking at 65-70 strides per minute. In the ChiWalking technique you keep your stride very short and therefore your pace is slightly faster than regular walking. You should be able to comfortably talk while walking at your aerobic pace, without slowing to a stroll. Keep your arms at a 90 degree angle and keep your shoulders forward over your feet. This will help you move forward with less muscle usage and greater efficiency. If you walk 5 times a week, 3 of your walks can be aerobic walks. The longer, the better—and the more often, the better. You can safely walk 7 days a week, but 5 walks a week for 45 minutes is enough to make a huge difference in your health and level of fitness. Start with 3 walks for 20 minutes. The key is to get out there and walk. The aerobic walk also burns fat, the more fat, the longer you walk, so that’s an added incentive.
The Cardio Walk
The cardio walk is a different kind of workout for your heart. In the cardio workout you want to increase and then lower your heart rate in order to give your heart a workout. You’ll be increasing the strength of you heart in much the same way as lifting weights increases the strength of your muscles. You should do a cardio workout twice a week. Walking up and down hills is a great cardio workout. If you don’t have hills, you can increase your heart rate by increasing your speed in 1-2 minute intervals. Warm up for 10 minutes, walking at an aerobic pace, then increase your pace for 1 or 2 minutes, depending on your level of conditioning, then drop back down to your aerobic pace for 1-2 minutes. The metronome will help you find and keep the best pace for the slow and the faster intervals. When you first start, you may just do 5 intervals and then increase over time as your heart gets stronger. Make sure you cool down by walking at an aerobic then a strolling pace before you finish your workout.
There is powerful medicine in your walking shoes, only if you use them, of course. Walking to heal or prevent heart disease is a great reason to enjoy all the benefits of regular consistent exercise. When you walk regularly and improve the health of your heart, walking will feel effortless and you’ll have the energy and vitality to truly follow your heart’s deepest desires, whatever they may be.