Did you know that walking is one of the easiest ways to improve your health? A study by Harvard researchers found that their participants who walked briskly for an hour per day cut in half the obesity promoting genes. Just a short 15-minute walk has also been shown to help curb chocolate and other sweet cravings.

The American Cancer Society performed a study that found women who walk seven hours or more per week had a 14 percent lower risk of breast cancer. Walking can also help with osteoporosis. The impact of the walking motion helps bones become stronger.

Do you feel like you get sick often? Walking can help with immune function. People who walk 20 minutes per day, five days per week had 43 percent fewer sick days than those who walked once or less per week.

All of these health benefits are great reasons to pick up a walking routine. Another great benefit is that walking can help improve your mood. Exercise releases endorphins which are your feel good hormones. If you are feeling a little down, go for a walk and chances are you will feel better after.

Don’t have a gym membership? There are plenty of walkways in Jackson County to try that are free. If it is raining, go to a large store and take a few laps around the inside of the building. Get creative and have fun.

Can’t find the time to walk for an hour? Don’t worry, you can break it up into smaller amounts per day. Maybe you can walk five minutes around your work building or parking lot a few times during the day then again for 20-30 minutes after work.

Items to remember before heading out on your walk include; sunscreen, a hat and or sunglasses, bug spray, comfortable shoes, water bottle and possibly an umbrella.

If you are looking for a walking group, the Cooperative Extension is having a Summer Walking Series in July to get people up and moving. It is going to be four Wednesday mornings starting 10:30-11:30 a.m. July 10, meeting at the Jackson County Greenway on Old Cullowhee Road. There will be a short health lesson at the beginning then participants will be able to walk together (if desired) down the greenway.

Always consult your doctor before starting any new exercise routine.

To sign up for this free program call the Extension Office at 586-4009 or e-mail Family Consumer Sciences Agent Emily McClure at ekmcclure@ncat.edu.