There are many ways to keep a person's heart healthy and strong but a new campaign has a simple message: Go out and take a walk.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) and the Countryside Agency are working together to get more people on their feet and out and about as part of a drive to boost the nation's health.

The campaign centres around the Step-O-Meter, a device which counts every step a person takes so they can monitor and increase their level of activity.

The drive is part of the Walking The Way To Health Initiative (WHI), launched in October 2000, as a five-year programme to get more people walking in their own communities, particularly those whose take little exercise or live in areas of poor health.

Organisers want to encourage more people to make walking part of their everyday lives.

Several WHI walking groups have been set up around Sussex and dozens of people are also being urged to send off for their own Step-O-Meters so they can monitor their progress.

The campaign is particularly aimed at people who are usually quite inactive, such as those who spend most of their day in front of a computer screen at work and then go straight home to relax.

Organisers say even a little exercise is better than none at all. A brisk walk around the streets at lunchtime can be as beneficial as a hike across the Downs at the weekend.

Jackie Barlow from Bognor knows all about keeping healthy as she is a fitness instructor working at the Arun Leisure Centre in Bognor.

She is organising a local WHI group for the Arun area and is hopeful of a high level of interest from walkers.

She said: "A lot of people who need to get fit and healthy for whatever reason get referred to me by GPs. Many of them are put off exercise because they don't like the idea of going to a gym.

"Sometimes it is because they feel embarrassed or self-conscious because they are overweight.

"But when it comes to walking, all they have to do is go out and they are starting to exercise. It is such a simple and easy thing.

"None of the organised walks are strenuous and there is a leader both at the front and the back. Nobody is left to find their way around alone. The walks are also good social occasions and give people a chance to meet up and have a chat."

Mrs Barlow said the idea of using the Step-O-Meter was also a boost.

She said: "It is an excellent idea. I use one myself and it acts as an incentive.

"After seeing what you've done one day, you feel like you want to beat that total the next day."

According to the BHF, 37 per cent of coronary heart disease deaths are directly related to insufficient physical activity.

Despite this, most people find any excuse not to exercise.

Professor Sir Charles George from the BHF said: "Walking is a relaxing and enjoyable way to keep healthy and, as it requires no equipment or expense, is the perfect way to get more exercise.

"Apart from coronary heart disease, regular walking can also reduce the risks of developing other health conditions such as diabetes or blood pressure.

"Wearing a Step-O-Meter will hopefully motivate people from all walks of life to slowly increase the number of steps they take.

"Early evidence suggests that most people are taking between three and four thousand steps per day, while experts say ten thousand steps per day is a healthy ideal."

Although exercise helps, there are other things that can be done to keep the heart in good condition.

The saturated fats found in red meat, biscuits, cakes, chips and dairy products can clog up arteries and put a strain on the heart but eating fish, poultry and vegetables can help.

From the moment a person stops smoking, the risk of a heart attack starts to reduce. At the end of a year, the risk will have halved.

Binge drinking also increases the risk of a heart attack so health bosses recommend people drink alcohol in moderation.

For more information about WHI and the Step-O-Meter campaign, log on to the BHF website at