We’re very near the end of the month-the end of “American Heart Month.” But our hearts work for us every day of the year, and deserve attention beyond the shortest month of the year. In the time it takes you to read this article, perhaps three Americans will have died from a cardiac event. What if there was a course of therapy that, if followed daily would dramatically reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, colon and breast cancer? Would you participate? Would you want it for your family and loved ones? And, how much would you pay for it?

We’re very near the end of the month-the end of “American Heart Month.” But our hearts work for us every day of the year, and deserve attention beyond the shortest month of the year. In the time it takes you to read this article, perhaps three Americans will have died from a cardiac event. What if there was a course of therapy that, if followed daily would dramatically reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, colon and breast cancer? Would you participate? Would you want it for your family and loved ones? And, how much would you pay for it?

In the past 10 years, dozens of studies published in medical journals have determined that one of the biggest risk factors for many diseases is a lack of activity. The cure? Put on some comfortable, supportive walking shoes for just a few minutes each day, and the following benefits can be yours:

Breast cancer: 20 percent risk reduction Diabetes: 50 percent risk reduction   Heart disease: 30-40 percent risk reduction   Colon cancer: up to 50 percent risk reduction Stroke: 25 percent risk reduction

The American Heart Association’s prevention guidelines recommend that women should achieve at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most or all days of the week.

Moderate intensity exercise is recommended for either 30 minutes a day for five days a week or a total of two hours and 30 minutes per week. What is moderately intensive activity? A moderate level of activity noticeably increases your heart rate and breathing rate (at least 10 minutes of continuous physical activity). You may sweat, but you are still able to carry on a conversation. One sign you’ve hit this level is that you can talk, but you can’t sing. Walking at a speed of three to five miles per hour or a 15-minute mile is all it takes. If walking five days a week is too much for your schedule, you can walk 60 minutes a day, just three times a week and get the same results.

Women who walk more than five hours weekly may reduce their heart attack risk by 50 percent. In a recent Harvard Men’s Health study, participants who walked 5.5 miles each week began showing benefits to the heart. And the more they walked, the greater the benefits.

Becoming more active can also lower your blood pressure by as much as four to nine points. In addition, did you know this routine will make you feel better if you’re depressed? Exercise leads to changes in some of the same neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain that affect mood) targeted by antidepressant medications used to treat both depression and anxiety disorders.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve exercised, or if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or other medical concerns, consult your physician before starting a walking program.

And, if you need a little help to get started, consider joining St. Mary’s Medical Center’s Inside Track Mall Walking Program. It’s a program based at Independence Center dedicated to getting you active, and improving your health. Enjoy the great indoors and meet others with similar health goals. The program is free and provides incentives to help keep you motivated. For more information on the walking program, or to register, visit InsideTrackSM.com.