This Simple Activity Is Far More Important Than Losing Weight

Stop worrying so much about your weight... It turns out, there are far more important ways to take control of your health than fretting over the number on your scale.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge recently found that increasing activity could cut mortality rates in their study by 7.5%, while losing weight only reduced mortality rates during the study period by 3.6%.

Only 20 minutes of walking a day was needed to see benefits.

Here are seven ways that this simple, no-equipment activity will help save your life...

1. Reduces blood pressure and diabetes risk.

Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that walking and running similarly reduced blood pressure and diabetes risk. The key is not how long you walk or run, but how far. People who walked the same distance as runners experienced similar health benefits. One example... walkers lowered their risk of diabetes 12.1%. Runners lowered their risk 12.3%.

Walking (along with most types of exercise) and the cooldown afterward release chemicals that relax blood vessels and promote healthy blood pressure. After a month or two, many people can throw away their blood pressure pills.

2. Keeps osteoarthritis at bay.

A study from Boston University published in the medical journal Arthritis Care & Research found walking 6,000 steps per day was the magic number... at about a two-miles-per-hour pace. This was where participants experienced the most health benefits, like avoiding knee pain. People who walked less than this were more likely to have knee pain.

3. Prevents dementia.

As you age, your brain begins to shrink, which is associated with memory problems like dementia. People with age-related dementia consistently show a loss of white brain matter.

Walking builds brain volume, which helps fight off the disease. We don't know exactly why, but a recent study shows people who walk at least six miles per week are 50% less likely to develop memory problems.

4. Staves off depression.

Scientists report that physical activity cuts your risk of depression in half. Just two and a half hours of exercise per week offers the peak benefit. That's less than 22 minutes of activity a day. And the exercise doesn't have to be extreme or overly vigorous. It can be activities like going for a walk over the lunch hour or working in your garden.

Plus, if you walk outside, the extra sunlight you receive can lower your risk of depression. Just make sure you don't get burned by going out when the sun is at its highest point in the sky.

5. Promotes better sleep.

A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine showed that walking reduced the time it took to fall asleep and increased the length of sleep for people with chronic insomnia compared with nights when they hadn't exercised. Running or lifting weights did not improve sleep the night after.

6. Enhances your sex life.

A two-mile walk each day can reduce men's risk of erectile dysfunction, according to a nine-year study published in Urology. Other healthy actions... like quitting smoking, losing weight, or cutting back on drinking... didn't reduce impotence risk. And for women, regular physical activity like walking can enhance arousal and improve blood flow.

7. Boosts your immune system.

When you walk, you move the large joints in your shoulders and hips... which stimulates chemicals that improve your mood and your ability to avoid disease. It also stimulates your bone marrow to produce immune cells.

One family I know walks five miles every day in all sorts of weather. A visit to them for the weekend is a great workout!

So do what I do... worry less about the things that might be killing you. Instead, focus on doing the things that help you.

The benefits of a simple approach to diet and exercise far outweigh any risks of maintaining a few added pounds. Simple things like walking 15-20 minutes several times per week will greatly improve your life.

I often have walking meetings with coworkers when the weather is agreeable. Walking your dog or grandchildren around the block a few times a day will also help.