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Taking a walk a day is kind of like that proverbial apple: There’s a good chance it’ll keep the doctor away. From helping you lose weight and de-stress to lowering your blood pressure and reducing your risk of many chronic diseases—going for regular walks is one of the best and easiest things you can do for your health, says Melina B. Jampolis, MD, author of the new book The Doctor on Demand Diet. (Learn how to walk away from belly fat, heart disease, and diabetes with Prevention’s Walk Your Way To Better Health.) “Walking is the number one exercise I recommend to most of my patients because it is very easy to do, requires nothing but a pair of tennis shoes, and has tremendous mental and physical benefits,” she says. Here’s what you can expect when you start walking for just 30 minutes every day, most days of the week.
1. Your mood will improve.
You know how sometimes it takes a glass of wine or a square (or three) of dark chocolate to blunt the edge of a rough day? Well, going for a walk is a zero-calorie strategy with the same benefits, says Jampolis. “Research shows that regular walking actually modifies your nervous system so much that you’ll experience a decrease in anger and hostility,” she says. What’s more, when you make your walks social—you stride with, say, your partner, a neighbor, or a good friend—that interaction helps you feel connected, says Jampolis, which boosts mood. Finally, walking outdoors exposes you to natural sunlight, which can help stave off Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)—making it a potential antidote for the winter blues, says Jampolis.
2. Your creative juices will start flowing.
Whether you’re feeling stuck at work or you’ve been searching for a solution to a tricky problem, research shows it’s a good idea to get moving: According to a 2014 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, Learning, Memory, and Cognition, going for a walk can spark creativity. “Researchers administered creative-thinking tests to subjects while seated and while walking and found that the walkers thought more creatively than the sitters,” says Jampolis. (Burn calories and build muscle—all while boosting your mood—with Walk Your Way To Better Health!)
3. Your jeans will get a little looser.
This one may seem obvious, but it’s certainly a happy benefit for those who start walking regularly, says Jampolis. “As you continue to walk, you may notice your pants begin to fit more loosely around your midsection, even if the number on the scale isn’t moving much,” she says. “That’s because regular walking can help improve your body’s response to insulin, which can help reduce belly fat.” Ariel Iasevoli, a personal trainer at Crunch gyms in New York City, adds that walking every day is one of the most effective low-impact waysto mobilize fat and positively alter body composition. “Daily walking increases metabolism by burning extra calories and by preventing muscle loss, which is particularly important as we get older,” says Iasevoli. The best part? You don’t have to slog it out on a treadmill at the gym to see these benefits. “One of my clients reduced her body fat by 2% in just one month by walking home from work each day, which was just under a mile,” she says.
5. You’ll keep your legs looking great.
6. You’ll start to get more “regular.”
If you currently praise coffee for keeping your digestive system going strong, get ready to start thanking your morning walk instead. That’s because a regular walking routine can greatly improve gastric mobility, says Tara Alaichamy, DPT, a physical therapist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America. “One of the very first things an abdominal surgery patient is required to do is to walk because it utilizes core and abdominal muscles, encouraging movement in our GI system,” she says. (Check out these 7 things your poop says about your health.)
7. Your other goals will start to seem more reachable.
When you become a regular walker, you will have established a regular routine—and when you have a routine, you are more likely to continue with the activity and take on new healthy behaviors. “I firmly believe that walking regularly can help you to accomplish other goals you set your mind to,” says Kim Evans, a personal trainer, and daily walker.