So many workouts, so many excuses. Running? Cramps in your side. Swimming? Hate getting wet. Pilates? Expensive. Spin class? A headache. Walking? Um... Finally, an exercise truly devoid of downsides. It may not be flashy or cool, but according to growing scientific evidence, walking, done often and properly, can deliver an array of benefits that are just as impressive as those often gained from sportier regimens.
You might call walking America’s untrendiest growing trend. Between 2005 and 2010, the number of adults who walked for 10 minutes or more at least once a week rose from 56 to 62 percent—an increase of almost 20 million people—as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
An influx of pedestrian-friendly communities around the country has something to do with it. In the past decade, many cities, including New York, Chicago, and Boston, have transformed busy traffic routes into pedestrian-friendly pathways. In 2011 the Cleveland City Council passed a “green streets” ordinance, which requires that a certain percentage of funding for road projects be spent on pedestrian-focused amenities, including crosswalks and energy-efficient lighting. In 2012 Los Angeles saw its first street-to-plaza conversion, turning an underused road into an 11,000-square-foot walking zone. “When people can travel to shops, schools, and parks without a car, walking is no longer a task on the to-do list but a natural part of their day,” says Mark Fenton, a former member of the U.S. National Racewalking Team and a public-health and transportation consultant.
Urban planning aside, plain old nagging has also nudged Americans onto their feet. Over the years, doctors, insurance companies, and public-health officials have banded together to make their message loud and clear: Walk—it’s good for you. Paul T. Williams, Ph.D., a staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in Berkeley, California, goes so far as to call walking “a wonder drug, except that you don’t need a prescription and you don’t have to pay for it.” He’s not exaggerating. Walking regularly will not only get you into decent shape (no more getting winded after chasing a bus) but also do a whole lot more, as the latest findings suggest.
Learn the dos and dont’s of fitness walking, plus find scenic and challenging routes in the 10 most walkable U.S. cities.