If you don’t exercise, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re in the majority: eight out of ten Americans don’t get the recommended amount of exercise (2.5 hours of moderate intensity aerobic exercise or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise each week, plus two sessions of strength training).

But just because everyone’s (not) doing it doesn’t make it okay. Physical inactivity raises your risk for all sorts of health conditions, from high blood pressure to depression. The good news is you don’t have to start running marathons to reap the health benefits of exercise. Even the simple act of walking a few minutes a day can boost your physical and mental well-being.

7 amazing health benefits of walking

Believe it or not, walking has the following research-backed benefits:

  • It preserves your brain. Yep, a study that followed 300 people for nine years found that walking about a mile a day — which takes just 15-20 minutes — slashed the risk of developing cognitive impairment or dementia by 50 percent!
  • It lowers your blood pressure. Would you believe that regular walking (just one hour and 15 minutes per week at a moderate pace) can lower your blood pressure by as much as 11 points
  • It slashes your risk of cardiovascular disease. It’s not just your blood pressure that will benefit from regular walking — your whole cardiovascular system will! In fact, people who walk regularly (30 minutes or more, at a moderate pace, five days per week) lower their risk of cardiovascular disease by 30 percent compared to non-walkers.
  • It “turns off” obesity genes. When Harvard researchers analyzed 32 different genes that promote obesity in over 12,000 people, they found something eye-opening. Walking briskly for an hour a day cut the effect of those genes in half !
  • It tames your inner chocaholic. If you can take a 15-minute walk every day, you can seriously curb your cravings for chocolate — and reduce how you much of it you eat stress-eat.
  • It protects your joints. Want to stay arthritis-free? Start walking now. Walking five to six miles per week has been shown to prevent arthritis from developing, because it lubricates your joints and strengthens your muscles.
  • It wards off colds and flu. Your immune system must love walking, because one study found that folks who walked at least 20 minutes a day for at least five days per week slashed their sick days by 43 percent. Even better: when they did get a cold or flu, it didn’t last as long and the symptoms weren’t as severe.

How to get started

If you don’t exercise at all, start small by walking 10-15 minutes per day at a leisurely pace. Remember, it’s more important to be consistent than to be fast, so just focus on establishing a walking habit. As your body gets more conditioned, you can increase your pace and the amount of time you spend walking. Your body and mind will thank you!

What’s your favorite place to walk?