Walking and Surgery Recovery

Three weeks ago I had a second ablation surgery for atrial fibrillation, or afib.  It takes about 3 months to know whether the surgery is successful, but all indications are that everything went well this time.  In about 25 percent of the cases, it takes two surgeries.  I was one of the 25 percent.  In case you’re not familiar with afib, it’s an irregular heartbeat in the atria of the heart.  Afib itself is not life-threatening, but there is an increased risk of a stroke because some blood can settle in the heart and a clot can form.  The remedy for that is to take a blood thinner.  During ablation surgery, the doctor inserts a catheter through the femoral veins to the heart and freezes or cauterizes the areas causing the electrical impulses to misfire.  It’s considered minimal risk surgery.  There is no pain involved and the recovery time is very short.

Still I can’t resume regular exercise for another week.  I can walk though, and that brings me to the subject of this article.  We all know that walking is good for you, but how fast should you be walking to get maximum benefits?  Unfortunately, there are no studies for people under 65, but there are some studies that indicate how many calories are burned at different speeds.  For example, a 150 pound person who walks 30 minutes at 2.5 mph will burn about 107 calories.  At a 3 mph pace, 125 calories.  At 3.5 mph, 154 calories, and at a brisk 4 mph pace, 179 calories.

For those of us who are over 65,  one study (Verghese, Wang & Holtzer 2011) found that our walking pace provides a crucial clue to our functional status, which is defined as the ability to do normal activities of daily living.  Another study (Middleton, Fritz & Lusardi 2015) showed that slower walking speeds indicate frailty, functional dependence, cognitive decline, and mortality.   For instance a walking pace of 1.3 mph or less is considered poor.  A speed of 1.8 mph is the median walking pace for this population.  That computes to 33 minutes a mile.  Speeds of 2.2 mph or greater suggest healthier aging, and a pace in excess of 2.7 miles per hour indicates better health and a higher life expectancy.  A 2.7 mph pace is about 22 minutes a mile.   I guess I’m doing ok by those standards.  At 71, I’m pacing about 3.75 mph, or about 16 minutes a mile.  Still, I’ll be glad to mix a little running in with the walking.  That’s still a couple of weeks away though.

On other thing, whether you’re 25 or 75, just because you’re walking doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also be lifting weights.  For older adults, lifting weights is even more important than walking.  I’ll cover that in a future blog.

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