Walking Away from Metabolic Syndrome and Heart Attacks

Published: September 9, 2012

Simply walking 30 minutes a day 6 days a week is enough to lose weight and cut the risk of metabolic syndrome (a key cause of heart attacks and strokes) by 25%—without even changing your diet.

"Our study shows that you'll benefit even if you don't make any dietary changes," according to study leader Johanna L. Johnson, a clinical researcher at Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina.

It's estimated that about one quarter of all U.S. adults have metabolic syndrome—a cluster of problems that increase the probability that one will develop heart disease, stroke, or diabetes. To be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, a person must have at least three of five risk factors:

  1. A large waistline,
  2. High blood pressure,
  3. High triglycerides,
  4. Low levels of "good" HDL cholesterol,
  5. Diabetes/high blood sugar (associated with insulin resistance).

Because of our becoming increasingly obese and sedentary, metabolic syndrome is becoming increasingly common.

The benefits of even light walking were discussed in the STRRIDE study (which stands for Studies of a Targeted Risk Reduction Intervention through Defined Exercise). In this study, researchers examined the effects of varying amounts and intensity of exercise on 171 middle-aged, overweight men and women. Before exercising regularly, 41 percent of the study subjects met the criteria for metabolic syndrome. At the end of the 8 month exercise program, only 27 percent did.

"That's a significant decline in prevalence," said Johnson. "It's also encouraging news for sedentary, middle-aged adults who want to improve their health. It means they don't have to go out running 4 or 5 days a week; they can get significant health benefits by simply walking around the neighborhood after dinner every night."

People in the study who exercised the least—walking 30 minutes 6 days a week or the equivalent of about 11 miles per week—gained significant benefit, while those who exercised the most, jogging about 17 miles per week, gained slightly more benefit in terms of lowered metabolic syndrome scores.

People who did a short period of very vigorous exercise didn't improve their metabolic syndrome scores as much as those who performed less intense exercise for a longer period, the researchers. It's helpful to know that there's more value in doing moderate intensity exercise every day rather than more intense activity just a few days a week.

All of the exercisers lost inches around their waistline over the 8 month study period, whereas the inactive control group gained an average of about one pound and a half-inch around the waist. "That may not sound like much, but that's just 6 months. Over a decade, that's an additional 20 pounds and 10 inches at the belt line," noted Duke cardiologist Dr. William E. Kraus, the study's principal investigator.

I recommend you get your exercise by walking outside, so you can get sunshine—your key source of Vitamin D. This will also decrease the risk of hypertension, diabetes, and cancer (low Vitamin D is responsible for over 85,000 cancer deaths a year in the US). Make a plan to walk daily with a friend, and somewhere that's enjoyable (on cold days it could be in the mall). That way, you're more likely to have fun—and stay with the program!

SOURCE: American Journal of Cardiology, December 15, 2007.

Jacob Teitelbaum, MD

is one of the world's leading integrative medical authorities on fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. He is the lead author of eight research studies on their effective treatments, and has published numerous health & wellness books, including the bestseller on fibromyalgia From Fatigued to Fantastic! and The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution. Dr. Teitelbaum is one of the most frequently quoted fibromyalgia experts in the world and appears often as a guest on news and talk shows nationwide including Good Morning America, The Dr. Oz Show, Oprah & Friends, CNN, and Fox News Health.

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