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SiSU Wellness

Slow down for a healthy heart

Last Updated: 18 January 2019








Slow down for a healthy heart

We’re often told that ‘harder and faster’ is the best motto when it comes to exercise. But it may not necessarily be best for overall health.

Very intense exercise can actually put the body under too much strain, leading to negative health effects such as lowered immunity, poor sleep, weight gain and heart disease.


Cortisol is a hormone released by the body in response to trauma, fear, stress (both physical and mental), infection and illness. It signals the body that more energy is needed (in the form of sugar) to combat these challenging situations. So it is an essential hormone in the human body that helps to keep us alive and healthy. However, like most things, when we have too much of it, it can cause problems. When too much cortisol is released, perhaps due to chronic stress, over-training or crash dieting, it can have serious negative effects on health.


Chronic high levels of cortisol affects the immune system response while at the same time suppressing the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. The change in the natural cortisol feedback system also affects the regions of the brain controlling mood, motivation and fear. In addition, raised cortisol levels are also linked with weight gain (particularly around the middle) and heart disease.


Walking however, has all of the benefits of cardiovascular exercise (if you’re walking at a pace fast enough to raise the heart rate), is gentle on the joints, and can burn around 250 calories per hour at a moderate pace.  It has also been shown to reduce the risk of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke and some cancers.


It’s recommended that we walk at least 10 000 steps a day – try using a pedometer to measure your steps, or download an app to keep track. If you struggle with motivation, schedule a regular walking slot with someone –whether it’s with a colleague on your lunch break or with a friend at the weekend. You’ll also benefit from an extra boost of vitamin D – created in the body by the action of sunlight on the skin. Vitamin D is not only an immune booster but will also lift your mood. 


Written by Ruth Tongue
(MSc Nutrition)

General health
Heart health
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