When Sheri Lindsay had a stroke, it felt like a light went off in her eye. A light definitely went off in her head. The busy Detroit-area mom of two, who had watched heart disease kill her dad when he was just 59, knew it was time to make serious lifestyle changes.

Today on National Walking Day, the American Heart Association wants everyone to get active for their heart health. Statistics shows that people stick to walking plans more than other form of physical activity. And walking is one of the easiest, cheapest things you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, the top two killers in the world.

“There is no other lifestyle change that has as many mental and physical health benefits as walking 30 minutes a day,” said Gerald Jerome, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of kinesiology at Towson University and an American Heart Association volunteer.

National Walking Day activities are going on across the nation. Missouri State University in Springfield is kicking off a new walking path through the heart of the campus. In Florida, Palm Beach Mayor Jerri Muoio is walking on a treadmill, while off-duty firefighters will hit the treadmills at a fitness center. Like many others, they’ll be wearing red shoe laces as a reminder that they’re walking for their heart health. Others are even “dance walking,” with trainers holding group classes.

Getting active worked for Lindsay. Four days after her stroke, even though her left side was weak and she could only see in one eye, she climbed on a stationary bike and peddled with one foot. She changed her diet and began losing weight, eventually dropping 130 pounds. A big part of that was walking.

“At first it took three hours to walk two miles,” said Lindsay. “Every day, every week and every month it got a little easier. I just kept on walking and eventually built up my strength.”

If you’re not active but want to be, start slow.

“Walking doesn’t require special equipment or clothing or a health club membership — it can be done most anywhere. For those who aren’t active, a slow walk for even five or 10 minutes is a great start,” said Deborah Rohm Young, Ph.D., director of behavioral research at Kaiser Permanente Southern California and an American Heart Association volunteer. “Over time, the benefits can appear with lower blood pressure, improved lipid profiles, better glucose control and perhaps weight loss.”

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