This treadmill regimen cuts your risk of dying from heart disease nearly in half…

What if there were a piece of exercise equipment that could cut your risk of dying from heart disease by nearly half?

This is actually possible by simply using a treadmill—in a strategic way. The approach is not complicated or even that difficult, but few people take advantage of it.

 THE “MET” SECRET

We all know that walking is an excellent form of exercise. What makes a treadmill so efficient is that you can control your pace and/or incline so that you maintain your desired intensity and get the maximum benefit from your exercise routine.

The treadmill’s winning secret is that it gives you the ability to monitor energy expenditure, also called a MET, which stands for metabolic equivalent. Every one MET increase in your fitness level cuts your risk for death from heart disease by 15%, so increasing METs by three, for example, will cut risk by 45%. Many treadmills display METs readings. You can also estimate METs with an app for your smartphone or tablet. The Exercise Calculator for the iPhone or iPad displays METs when you enter your weight, type of activity and length of time exercising.

Simply put, METs allow you to track the intensity of your workout by estimating the amount of oxygen your muscles are burning to fuel you through various activities. For example, sitting requires one MET…and normal walking requires two to three METs—that is, two to three times as much oxygen and calories as you’d burn while relaxing in a chair. Light jogging requires eight METs…and running at a 6-mph pace, 10 METs.

With immediate feedback from your METs reading, you can effectively gauge how hard you’re working out…and receive the motivation to push yourself at the safest and most effective intensity levels.

Important: If you’ve been sedentary, start your treadmill walking at 2 mph to 3 mph with no incline. Gradually increase your speed over the next eight to 10 weeks, then progress to graded treadmill walking or slow jogging. If symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness and/or chest pain develop, stop and tell your doctor.

Here’s how to most effectively use a treadmill for specific exercise goals…

Quick but effective workout. What to use: Incline and speed. When it comes to getting the most out of exercise, intensity and duration are inversely related. By combining higher treadmill inclines with increased speeds, you’ll bolster your MET level and reach your target heart rate sooner. Working at your target heart rate helps improve fitness.

With fast, graded treadmill walking, you can get a great workout in just 20 to 30 minutes. Example: Increase speed slightly (0.1 mph to 0.2 mph) every minute for five minutes. Then increase the incline setting, which is measured as a percentage, by 0.5% (for example, going from 1% to 1.5% incline) and walk for five minutes. Alternate this sequence once or twice (increasing speed and incline each time) until you feel you’re working hard, but can still carry on a conversation.

Weight loss. What to use: Incline. With incline walking, more muscle mass—especially in the quadriceps and glutes—is activated with each stride. And the more treadmill incline you use, the more calories you’ll burn.

A mere increase of just 1% on the incline setting (for example, going from 1% to 2%) at a comfortable walking speed (such as 1.5 mph to 2.5 mph) will boost your energy expenditure by about 10%, and I’ll bet you won’t even feel a difference. If you walk faster, you’ll burn even more calories because you’ll be working at a higher MET level.

Research shows that regular brisk walks of at least 30 minutes five or more days a week is the best approach to weight loss. Walking on level ground at 2 mph or 3 mph equates to about two or three METs. To help protect your knees, slow your pace as you gradually work up to higher levels of inclines.

Good news: At high inclines, walking may burn as many calories as jogging or running.

DON’T FORGET STRENGTH TRAINING

To get the most from your treadmill walking—or any cardio activity—be sure to add some resistance or strength training to further build your muscle strength. Strength training complements aerobic exercise, reducing your risk for heart disease. You’ll also improve your insulin sensitivity (to help fight diabetes) and boost your bone mass (to guard against osteoporosis).

Best: Target various upper and lower body muscle groups, including the chest, back, shoulders, abdomen, quadriceps and hamstrings, using hand weights and/or weight machines. Some yoga poses can also increase muscle strength and endurance.

Aim for eight to 10 exercises…and do at least one set of 10 to 15 reps per set, at least twice a week.

BONUS TOOLS

You’ve probably seen people at the gym wearing ankle weights while walking on the treadmill. I’m not a fan. They can strain the lower extremities, increasing your risk for orthopedic or musculoskeletal problems.

Better approach: Try walking with a backpack carrying a comfortable amount of weight. You’ll burn more calories than you would if you were walking without one. A snug fit will keep the weight close to your spine and hips—which may help you avoid balance problems and improve your bone density.

And don’t forget your headphones. Music (whatever genre you like) can reduce perceived exertion and may make your workout seem easier. It can be more motivating than watching TV.

Treadmill Safety

Treadmills are generally a safe way to exercise, but accidental falls can happen. To stay safe…

  •  Always straddle the treadmill before turning it on, and don’t assume it will always start at a slow, comfortable speed.
  • Lightly hold the handrail for support while walking.
  • Always warm up and cool down before and after the aerobic phase of your workout. Never suddenly stop the treadmill.