If you want to reduce your risk of developing a range of conditions including heart disease and depression, get out walking with a group.
According to a new study, regularly walking outdoors in groups lowers the risk of a number of life-threatening conditions.
The UK study was based on an analysis of 42 studies that included almost 1,900 people in 14 countries. Healthy people and people with various conditions, such as obesity, heart disease and Parkinson's disease, were included.
The study found that people who joined walking groups recorded big falls in their average weight, body fat, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and resting heart rate.
They also recorded improvements in their lungs, physical functioning and overall general fitness.
Participants also reported being less depressed after joining a walking group.
"Our research shows that joining a walking group is one of the best and easiest ways to boost overall health. The benefits are wide ranging - and they go above and beyond making people more physically active. What's more, people find it relatively easy to stick with this type of exercise regime," commented lead researcher, Sarah Hanson, of the University of East Anglia.
She pointed out that while the benefits of walking, including lowering the risk of some cancers, are already known, ‘these findings show that the dynamics and social cohesion of walking in groups may produce additional advantages'.
"People who walk in groups tend to have a more positive attitude toward physical activity, a shared experience of wellness, and say they feel less lonely and isolated. Taking regular walks can also be a catalyst for adopting other healthy behaviours," she noted.
Ms Hanson also pointed out that the findings suggest that people enjoy attending walking groups and as a result, are less likely to drop out compared to other types of activities.
The researchers believe that this could be a low-risk, cost-effective way of improving overall health and that doctors should consider recommending walking groups.
"Walking is safe and walking groups could provide a valuable line of treatment, with a potential for both physiological and psychological health benefits," Ms Hanson added.
Details of these findings are published in the British Journal of Sport Medicine.