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Walking: The single best thing you can do for your health

The best – and simplest – medical advice we’ve heard recently came from a surprising source: a YouTube cartoon by one of our own experts. Dr. Mike gives us the lowdown on the science behind his groundbreaking idea

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When Dr. Mike Evans answered the question “What’s the single best thing you can do for your health? in his YouTube video, it went viral — no pun intended — with over 2 million hits. His answer: Walk half an hour every day (which, he points out, leaves you with an ample 23.5 hours of whatever-you-want time). We asked Evans, a physician at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and associate professor at the University of Toronto, for more tips.

Why is exercise so good for us?
“First, it’s about quality of life. I bike a lot, and people say, Are you doing it for the environment or for fitness?’ I do it because I feel better at the end of the day. It makes me happy. Second, in medicine, we’re shifting away from telling people to lose weight and prescribing exercise instead. The data points to protective benefits from being active, even if you’re struggling with your weight. Third, exercise is a cure-all for a lot of mental health issues: it’s highly therapeutic for anxiety, depression and insomnia.

Why is walking the ideal exercise?
“It uses the whole body and it’s easy to work into your everyday routine. It’s also incredibly powerful — it helps with diabetes, arthritis, fatigue, even Alzheimer’s.

What else should people do every day?
“Let’s break it down to the basics. Skip junk food, and mingle. Having a good social network is pretty powerful.

What’s the best way to fit in 30 minutes a day?
“Everyone has a different style. I’m a social sport,’ so I schedule weekly tennis, squash or hockey games. My sister is a creature of habit. She runs three times a week; it’s just part of her routine. Some people need a 5K, 10K or marathon as a challenge — they’re goal-oriented. Others need a personal trainer — they’re more motivation based. And then there are people who work exercise into their daily routine. They walk to work, get off the subway a stop earlier or take a stroll with their partner after dinner. See what category you fall into and work in exercise so it never feels like a chore. You can also sneak it in by taking the stairs, doing squats while brushing your teeth, that kind of thing. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. You’ve just got to get moving.

Watch the video here: