You’re mistaken if you believe treadmill workouts don’t work the heart as well as “real” walking or jogging outdoors.

The treadmill can even be better than the “real thing.”

When I was a personal trainer at a large health club, every so often I’d find myself explaining why the treadmill (walking, jogging or running) could be just as beneficial to heart health as is exercising outdoors.

The heart does not know the difference between the increased energy demands that occur on a treadmill and those that occur from walking or running outside.

All the heart knows is that the body is working hard enough to require more oxygen than usual.

When the heart beats faster to accommodate the exertion of physical activity that’s performed consistently over time, this pumping muscle will improve in strength and durability.

I’d tell my inquiring clients, “If you don’t think you could get a good cardiovascular workout on a treadmill, allow me to control the settings and let’s see if you still feel the same way after 10 minutes.”

Correct Treadmill Use

• Hold on ONLY when turning around, sipping water or making some other kind of adjustment.

• Except for temporary heart rate checks, keep your hands off the machine and move your arms naturally as you walk or jog/run.

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• Though your heart rate may still be elevated while you hold onto the equipment, the holding on is bad for other components (promotes bad posture, negatively alters natural gait, discourages natural balance and coordination, reduces workload including core involvement, does not carry over to “real” walking, running or hiking, and reduces calorie expenditure).

• The calorie readout is determined by the settings; the computer does not distinguish between a user who’s holding on and one who’s not!

Sustained Aerobic Activity: Beneficial to the Heart whether on a Treadmill or Outside

• Great for heart health and the entire cardiovascular system—be it treadmill or outside.

• Walk 20 minutes (hands off the machine) at a speed and incline that elevate heart rate and make you breathe hard.

• What feels very difficult for one person may be another person’s warmup. Find “where you’re at” and work up from there, building more strength and fitness in your heart over time.

Interval Aerobic Training: Boosts Heart Health Tremendously whether with Treadmill or Outdoors

• Alternate between difficult but brief effort and two to four minutes of easy walking.

• You can alternate just with speeds, keeping the incline constant.

• Or, use a fixed speed but alternate the incline.

• Or combine the mixing. There are many permutations.

• Each brief work interval should be difficult, getting you very out of breath.

Why might the treadmill be even better for heart health than walking or running outside?

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• Walking or running outdoors can lead to underestimation of speed for those who use speed as a metric.

• Outdoors also makes it hard to tell what degree of incline you’re at.

• However, when you’re outdoors, pay attention to how your body FEELS. If you’re getting mighty winded after work intervals or feel a good heart pump during longer-sustained exertion, then you’re getting great cardiovascular exercise.

• On the other hand, there are those who will unknowingly become slack while outdoors simply because they don’t have a speedometer and incline adjuster.

• Another issue is duration of work intervals. If you’re outdoors and want to do 30-second work intervals, you may be unknowingly stopping after only 25 or even 20 seconds. Or, you may be going for longer than you want.

• A treadmill’s computer allows you to know your speed, inclinde and length of time at any given setting.

• The controlled environment also promotes adherence. For instance, many outside-only exercisers will skip a cardio workout if it’s windy or below a certain temperature.

So if you’ve been thinking that walking or running on a treadmill doesn’t benefit the heart as much as outside exercise, it’s time to overhaul this way of thinking.

Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  
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