When it comes to exercise options I recommend for weight loss and maintenance, walking is at the top of the list.

Why? There are many reasons including that it’s inexpensive, easy to do anywhere, perfect for people who haven’t worked out in awhile, and it cuts one’s risk of all types of health conditions like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression, insomnia, arthritis, back pain, and more!

Now a new study gives another good reason walking may be one of the best ways to ensure you live a long, healthy, and active life.

In the study, researchers reviewed data from nine large, long-term aging studies that included a total of nearly 35,000 people, ages 65 and up. Along with other information, these studies had recorded information on walking speed and survival rates.

What the researchers found was that after age and gender, the next best predictor whether a person would be alive 5 or 10 years later, or not, was how fast the person could walk down a hallway or a few yards. The researchers were quick to point out that it wasn’t necessarily that those who walked faster lived longer, but that the ability to walk at a reasonable pace seemed to indicate the person was in overall better health than someone who could not.

I have seen this in my own practice, as well, and have observed that walking seems to be a use it or lose it skill. The more immobile one is, the more likely his or her health is headed toward life in a wheelchair or walker, and a decline in health overall.

The good news is the best way to prevent that fate is to simply start walking more. Whatever your current ability, from just a few steps to a mile or more, start where you are, and in time you’ll find that you can go further and walk longer.

It’s important not to walk beyond what’s comfortable, or to try to go from not walking much to walking a marathon in one day. It’s better to gradually build up your endurance, say adding 5 minutes a day, than to push yourself and possibly end up with an injury or setback.

When the weather is good, walking outside is always enjoyable. But don’t stop there. When the weather is too hot, cold, or wet, look for places where you can walk indoors like a local shopping mall, or even walk in place at home along with a video or on a treadmill.

In fact, you can add lots of extra steps to your day without setting aside time for a walk at all. Simply choose the furthest parking spot from the door at work or when shopping, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or walk across the office to tell a coworker something rather than send an email. If you do this consistently, you can easily work the equivalent of a 30-minute walk right into your regular day.

Before you know it, you too will be walking your way to a slimmer, trimmer you and a healthier future!