MONDAY, Jan. 19, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Joining a walking group may be just what the doctor orders, because research suggests it is one of the best ways to improve your overall health.
It's easy to stick with this type of exercise program, which offers a wide range of health benefits and has virtually no side effects, the study authors said in the report published online Jan. 19 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
The researchers reviewed 42 studies, involving nearly 2,000 adults in 14 countries, that examined the physical and mental health effects of joining an outdoor walking group. Some of the people in the studies had chronic health problems such as arthritis, diabetes, obesity, fibromyalgia, Parkinson's disease, dementia, and mental health disorders.
Joining a walking group led to decreases in blood pressure, resting heart rate, body fat, weight and total cholesterol, the study found.
In addition, walkers saw improvements in overall physical functioning and lung power, the researchers said in a journal news release. And symptoms of depression also seemed to be reduced by joining an outdoor walking group, they found.
Three-quarters of the walking group participants stuck with the exercise program. The only negative side effects reported were a few falls on roots or wet ground, the findings showed.
And, the study authors pointed out, the social aspect of walking groups may help people develop positive attitudes about physical activity.
"Walking groups are effective and safe with good adherence and wide-ranging health benefits," study author Dr. Sarah Hanson, of Norwich Medical School at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, and colleagues said in the news release.
The study findings suggest that doctors and other health care providers should recommend patients join a walking group as a way to improve their health, Hanson's team added.
The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about walking.