Taking a leisurely stroll can lead to a happier, less stressful life.

Put your best food forward while relaxing outdoors

Walking can seem like an afterthought, or just a way to get from here to there. But the other benefits it can provide for overall health and well-being are crucial: helping to ward off feared and deadly diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes through exercise, while also reducing day-to-day anxiety and providing a fun, relaxing way to spend time with friends and family.

Improving walkability in our communities is a key component to help promote a healthy, active lifestyle for everyone. According to a study by the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research, walking as part of everyday travel is as effective as structured workouts for improving physical activity, fitness levels and blood pressure in previously sedentary people.

Another recent study from the Department of Behavioral Science at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center showed that university students who walked had lower stress levels than sedentary people or even those who exercised strenuously. Walking for health and stress reduction can be done almost anywhere: in a store, on the street or in a park. One day-to-day example: When you need a few items from the store, consider taking a walk, getting some exercise and clearing your head in place of a short drive. Aside from the obvious health benefits, it keeps you out of traffic and helps you enjoy the great outdoors.

Taking care of your bodies and minds begins with easy steps down the block, around the park or whatever venue suits your lifestyle. Who knew that something so basic as walking could be so beneficial to your health?

Dr. Georges Benjamin, MD, has been the executive director of the American Public Health Association, the nations oldest and largest organization of public health professionals, since December 2002. He also serves as publisher of the APHAs monthly publication, The Nations Health, and the American Journal of Public Health and has authored more than 100 scientific articles and book chapters.