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By Mandy Oaklander
January 19, 2015
TIME Health
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A quick jaunt with coworkers could make you feel better all over, according to a new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Researchers from the University of East Anglia in the U.K. were looking for an easy yet effective way to get people to exercise. Turns out, simply telling people that exercise is good for them doesn’t work all that well. (A full 8% of people in England don’t walk continuously for more than five minutes, the team’s research has shown.)

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They analyzed 42 studies on the subject across 14 countries and found that people who were part of walking groups showed significantly lower blood pressure, resting heart rate, body fat, cholesterol levels and even depression scores compared with their levels before they embarked on group walks. They also had better lung capacity — a good indicator of fitness — and were able to walk farther.

These weren’t hard and grueling hikes, either. The vast majority, 75%, weren’t even strenuous enough to count as moderate physical activity, yet the health effects were clear.

“It’s very small levels of exercise that people need to do,” says Hanson. “Increasingly we’re thinking, Look, let’s not overburden people by saying you need to do all these massive amounts of minutes of exercise. Let’s keep talking about 10 minute bouts of exercise.”

Those who were part of walking groups also had low levels of dropout — about three-quarters stuck with it — a finding Hanson credits to the presence of other people. Even if they don’t join to make friends, being able to clear your mind and follow the leader is enjoyable and fulfilling, she says.

If this were a medicine with such pronounced health benefits, “then people would buy it by the bucketful,” Hanson says. “But it’s free, and we don’t really realize how good some of these things are for us.”

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