We're bombarded by fitness messaging that tells us that to be healthy, we must go to extremes ("no pain, no gain). But really, it doesn't have to be that hard.
Simply going for a walk (especially if you do it regularly and outdoors) is an underestimated but low-stress, low-impact, accessible way to reap lots of health benefits. It can be a rejuvenating time, spent in solitude or in the company of friends, in sunshine and fresh air. Here are four benefits of going for walks—no gym membership required.
It Boosts Your Mood
Just the act of walking—the way you've probably been doing without thought ever since you were a toddler—can improve your mood, even in an environment where you may be dreading tasks you have at hand, according to a 2016 study.
Plus, it gives you a reason to take breaks from your chair throughout the day. If you're able to walk outside in a natural setting and not on a treadmill or at your workplace, the benefits are even more direct. Studies show that walking outdoors can help relieve stress: In one study, participants who took a 90-minute walk outdoors reported less "rumination" (repeatedly thinking negative thoughts about yourself) and showed less activity in regions of the brain linked to mental illness.
It Bolsters Heart Health
Activities that have you gasping for breath aren't the only ones that count as aerobic exercise; moderate walking can help you reap some of the same heart-healthy benefits.
Just 30 minutes of walking a day has been shown to improve blood pressure and reduce your risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association. This can be accomplished easily by simple decisions like parking farther away from buildings, taking stairs, and pacing while talking on the phone.
It Can Ease Sugar Cravings
The next time you have a hankering for a sweet snack, go for a brief walk. One study showed that taking a 15-minute walk helped people cut their chocolate consumption in half at their workplace.
RELATED: 3 Tips on Breaking Your Sugar Habit
It Improves Brain Health
Going for regular walks has been associated with increased brain plasticity, the ability to create and grow new neural connections in your brain.
It can even help stave off cognitive impairment, dementia, and Alzheimer's later in life. One study looked at the activity level of seniors; those who walked 72 blocks or more per week had more gray matter in their brains, reducing the risk of cognitive impairment by half.