Walking. Most of us have been doing it since we were very little kids. Not only is it an excellent way to get from one spot to the next, it’s an excellent, and often underrated, form of exercise that far too many people simply don’t do enough of. Long commutes, sedentary jobs, family and social obligations make finding time tough, but walking is an essential health-booster that I urge everybody to fit into their day – even if it’s only for a few minutes at a time.

Why is walking so important? Because the benefits of simply putting one foot in front of the other are extraordinary and increase with every step you take, reducing your risk of premature death and potentially adding a few years to your lifespan. So, put the car keys away, lace up your walking shoes and get out there. Here are a few of the things a regular walking routine can do for you:

Walk away from the debilitating diseases we all fear most.

Inactivity is a grim reaper – it’s among the top 5 killers of all adults on the planet according to the World Health Organization. So, if you’re concerned about being sedentary, well, you should be – and walking is an excellent way to combat the scourge. Walking can help lower risk for so many of the life-compromising illnesses we fear most – like dementia, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, depression, arthritis and stroke to name a few – that not making time to walk is a virtual one-way ticket to a very unhealthy future. Looking for more immediate benefit? Think about this before winter sets in: one study of 1,000 men and women showed that those who clocked at least a 20 minute walk every day, 5 days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. If you want to fight off colds and flu, get on your feet and get moving.

Walk thru your day – and away from your desk.

Even as little as one hour of sitting can impair blood flow by as much as 50 percent, so if you are stuck at a desk all day, it’s essential that you walk more during the day, even if you’re not able to leave the building, this in addition to your usual workout routine. Set a (quiet) alarm on your phone to remind you to get up and do a lap to the water cooler and back at least once an hour to counteract some of the damage of a sedentary job. A recent Indiana University study showed you can reverse potential damage by taking a five-minute walking break every hour or so.

Walking is like oiling your hinges.

Early man was designed to move – and so are we. Humans were built for the long haul, made for covering vast expanses every day, on the hunt for food and shelter. Though we don’t have to work quite as hard as our ancient ancestors to stay warm and fed, movement, particularly walking, is still essential for keeping the body healthy and strong. When propelling yourself on foot, you’re helping to increasing the production of the fluids that lubricate your joints which in turn helps reduce the risk of injury. All that movement also triggers the release of chemicals that expand your blood vessels, which means more blood and oxygen delivered to muscles and tendons making them more supple and better able to resist injury.

Walking makes your heart – and waistline happy.

What happens to your heart when you hit the road? Quite a bit, and it’s all good even if you’re not breaking any land-speed records. Over time, a regular walking routine helps lower blood pressure, improves overall resilience, and supports cardiac health, increasing the amount of oxygenated blood circulating throughout your system. You might think of walking as an essential medicine for your most important muscle, no pharmaceuticals required. If you’re struggling with weight, walking can help you take a load off here too, not surprisingly, with a welcome drop in insulin levels and a nice calorie burn as you forge ahead. You’ll shave off roughly 6 or 7 calories a minute when you walk for 10 minutes or more, an easy way to start peeling off excess weight and reducing strain on the heart in the long run. In fact, a regular walking groove appears to be just as effective at keeping weight in check as a gym routine, according to recent research from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and particularly helpful for the middle-aged set. Another interesting discovery is that walking seems to curb weight gain at a genetic level. Researchers have found that those who took a brisk, daily 1-hour walk reduced the effects of their obesity-promoting genes by a very impressive 50%.

Walking elevates mood and boosts brain power.

A solid walking routine brings with it a few more major upsides, including the release of blues-busting brain chemicals like serotonin and endorphins, which boost feelings of relaxation, helping reduce stress and promoting feelings of happiness. If depressive thoughts are part of your day-to-day, walking can provide a therapeutic assist by helping to shift your focus from internal challenges to the external, natural world and the soothing effects of being in nature. In addition, walking can boost your creative thinking abilities, according to one Stanford University study. The researchers tound creativity levels in walkers were consistantly and significantly higher than in sitters, so next time you hit a creative wall, take a walk to spark your creativity. Walking can also help with long-term brain health, according to researchers at New Mexico Highlands University (NMHU) who found that the foot’s impact during striding sends pressure waves through the arteries which can increase the supply of blood to the brain – just one more good reason to strut your stuff as often as possible.

Walking may help you live longer.

What else can walking do for you? Well, it may also add years to your life and life to your years. Research from the University of Cambridge showed that a brisk, daily 20-minute walk could be enough to reduce the risk of early death. Add to that the idea that walking tames inflammation throughout the body, strengthens your heart, cuts stroke risk, lowers blood sugar and blood pressure levels – and it’s easy to build a case for getting into a walking groove!

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