Walking on Sunshine

An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day, by Henry David Thoreau

The verdict is in: a daily dose of exercise is your best prescription for better health. Fortunately, you can reap the benefits without purchasing special equipment, joining a gym or even breaking a sweat; all it takes is a brisk walk. “Walking is one of the easiest ways around to create major health benefits for yourself,” says Christine Pellegrini, an assistant professor of Exercise Science at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health. “Shoot for about 150 minutes a week, at a moderate pace, which means that you can hold a conversation, but probably not sing a song.”

The benefits of walking are astonishing. Beyond activating nearly every large muscle in your body, walking is a weight-bearing exercise that’s good for the bones but easy on the joints. Pick up the pace to within 65% and 85% of your maximum heart rate, and you’ll give your heart and lungs a workout, too. And that’s just the beginning. “Walking lowers your risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity and even some cancers,” says Pellegrini. “It can also improve circulation, elevate your mood and ward off anxiety and depression.”

Dan Gaz, a physical activity and assessment manager at the Mayo Clinic, agrees. “Walking at that moderate pace for 150 minutes a week – that’s just a bit more than 20 minutes per day – is an excellent way to build fitness,” he says. “If you want to mix it up, try varying your terrain. Seek out hillier areas, or even walk on wooded or gravel trails. These changes can safely challenge your fitness and lead to greater improvements.”

If carving out 150 minutes a week just isn’t possible, do what you can. A recent study conducted by the American Cancer Society found that walking for less than two hours per week was associated with lower all cause mortality compared to no activity. “No matter how short your walk, it’s always better than sitting,” notes Pellegrini. “And it’s a great excuse to step way from your desk.”