Who would have thought that something so simple as putting one foot in front of the other could be so good for you – and make you feel so good? That’s right, getting into the habit of taking walks is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental well-being.

Often dismissed in the past as being “too easy”, walking has gained new respect as a means of improving physical fitness. Studies show that, when done briskly on a regular schedule, walking can improve the body’s ability to consume oxygen during exertion, lower the resting heart rate, reduce blood pressure, and increase the efficiency of the heart and lungs. It also helps burn excess calories. Since obesity and high blood pressure are among the leading risk factors for heart attack and stroke, walking offers protection against these two major killers.

Walking burns approximately the same amount of calories per mile as does running, a fact particularly appealing to those who find it difficult to sustain the effects of long distance jogging. In weight-bearing activities like walking, heavier individuals will burn more calories than lighter individuals. For example, studies show that a 110-pound person burns about half as many calories as a 216 pound person walking at the same pace for the same distance.

Although increasing speed does not burn significantly more calories per mile, a vigorous walking pace will produce more dramatic conditioning results. Someone starting out in poor shape will benefit from a slower walking speed, while someone in better condition would need to walk faster and/or farther to improve. Recent studies show that there are also residual benefits to vigorous exercise. For a period of time after a dynamic workout, one’s metabolism remains elevated above normal, which results in additional calories burned.

In some weight loss and conditioning studies, walking has actually proven to be more effective than running and other more highly-touted activities. That’s because it has the lowest dropout rate of any form of exercise, and it’s virtually injury-free.

In addition to its physical benefits, there is also a substantial psychological payoff to walking. Beginning walkers almost invariably report that they feel better and sleep better, and that their mental outlook has improved. Walking also can exert a favorable influence on personal habits.

So get out and enjoy the sunshine, get some fresh air and just keep putting one foot in front of the other.