PARIS - Joining a walking group is one of the easiest ways to boost health and morale, according to an investigation published Monday in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Researchers at Britain's University of East Anglia analysed 42 published studies of people who took up organised walking -- regular outings that typically lasted less than an hour.
Walkers enjoyed "statistically significant improvements" in wellbeing compared to their formerly sedentary state, the probe found.
Small but measurable gains were seen in general fitness, blood pressure, resting heart rate, lung power, cholesterol levels, body fat and in a standard test to measure depression.
The picture was less clear for waist circumference and blood glucose.
Of those who joined a walking group, three-quarters tended to stick to it -- and apart from the odd stumble over roots or wet ground, it is a risk-free activity.
These are benefits that doctors should point out to sedentary patients, the paper said.
"Walking groups are effective and safe with good adherence and wide-ranging health benefits."
The published studies, accessed through online databases, involved almost 2,000 people in 14 countries.
The volunteers were assessed before and after joining a walking group, and many had a wide-range of long-term health conditions, ranging from diabetes, arthritis and depression to obesity and Parkinson's disease.
Other sports were not evaluated.