9 Reasons Walking Is The Best Exercise

It's a great day for a stroll.
Images By Tang Ming Tung via Getty Images

The U.S. surgeon general prescribed a single activity to the nation on Wednesday, pointing to its ability to reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

It’s walking.

All doctors and health experts agree that walking is safe enough for everyone to do. It’s also effective enough to stave off disease, maintain your weight and control pain from chronic disease. It costs nothing and can be done anytime, just about anywhere. Even Hollywood's premiere trainer centers his fitness programs around it.

"I firmly believe that everybody in America needs a safe place to walk or to wheelchair roll,” said Surgeon General Vivek Murthy to the Associated Press.

Murthy explained that while walking or rolling is technically affordable and easy, it requires a walkable neighborhood that has sidewalks and crosswalks, and where people generally feel safe being outside. Not all American communities fit this bill, and to remedy the situation, Murthy is calling on all city planners, transportation leaders, businesses and schools to work with the public to create safe spaces to stroll.

"For too many of our communities, that is not the reality right now,” he concluded. Of course, many Americans feel that they simply don’t have time to exercise. While Murthy's office recommends American adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week (30 minutes five times a week), as well as two days of resistance training, a 2010 survey found that the overwhelming majority of people don't meet these benchmarks. To help you get into the swing of walking, we’ve rounded up nine reasons today is a good day for a stroll:

1. Walking is linked to lower rates of obesity.

People who walk to work are less likely to be obese, according to a 2009 study. So how much should you walk? A 2015 study found that even walking just 20 minutes a day can reduce your risk of premature death by 30 percent, and the Mayo Clinic notes that 30 minutes of walking a day burns about 150 calories, which can help you reach a calorie deficit that leads to weight loss.

2. It helps prevent diabetes.

Walking helps regulate blood sugar levels, which in turn keeps insulin levels low and diabetes at bay. In fact, walking for 15 minutes after every meal helped regulate blood sugar levels just as effectively as one 45-minute walk per day, according to a 2013 study, which is good for Americans daunted by one big walking session.

3. Walking is good for your heart.

Everyone knows that in the ranking of best-for-you exercises, running is better than walking, right? Not necessarily, and especially not when it comes to cardiovascular health. A 2013 study found that walkers who cover the same mileage as runners enjoy comparable reductions in high blood pressure, high cholesterol and coronary heart disease. While it took twice as long for walkers to cover the distance, walking may be a more sustainable and accessible activity than running for most people, especially those who are new to exercise.

If you’re walking at a clip where it feels comfortable to talk, but not comfortable enough to sing, then your heart is getting a great workout, Murthy noted.

4. Walking is gentle enough for people of all body types.

Pregnant? Morbidly obese? Arthritic? Walking is gentle enough for most people who have these conditions, doctors agree, and the activity can help ease the pain of chronic illness -- even if you have to start off by walking just two minutes a day.

5. It lifts your mood and protects against depression and anxiety.

Moving your body is a well-known way to release endorphins, a set of feel-good chemicals that dull pain receptors in the brain, sedate you and even give you feelings of happiness and euphoria. That’s why exercise in general, and walking in particular, is recommended to help improve symptoms of mild to moderate depression. A 2005 study found that walking briskly for 35 minutes five times a week, or 60 minutes three times a week, had a significant influence on mild to moderate depression symptoms.

6. It'll help you sleep better at night.

There’s a reason that travel experts advise you to walk around a new city on the day you arrive. Exposing your body to the sunlight and staying outside until it grows dark helps recalibrate the hormone melatonin to your new surroundings and time zone. As melatonin rises, so does feelings of sleepiness.

7. Walking is affordable and accessible.

There’s no gym membership, fancy exercise clothing or even walking-specific shoes you need to start. You also don’t have to be trained to learn how to walk properly. All you need are a pair of comfortable, supportive shoes! Fancy toys like step counters, earbuds and music players are not at all required, but can make walks less tedious.

8. Walking helps you meet your neighbors.

One in two Americans don’t know their neighbors. Remedy that today by taking a walk around your block. You’d be surprised how many friendly faces you see and meet!

9. Walking outdoors increases your probability of seeing birds, butterflies and sunsets by a million.

This one isn’t a scientific fact, but it just makes sense. Take a page from the immensely successful memoir Wild, in which Cheryl Strayed wrote, "There's a sunrise and sunset every day. You can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty."

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