When it comes to successful and enduring weight loss, eating well is only part of the battle. Physical activity will help inch you closer to your goal by incinerating calories and building muscle, which is more metabolically active when you’re at rest than fat.

You don’t need to join a fancy gym or purchase pricey home equipment to build an effective fitness program. Daily activities such as cleaning the house, walking to and from work, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, gardening, and shopping all count as physical activity. To really burn calories, though, you’ll want to get your heart pumping and break a sweat. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends healthy adults net at least two hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity (such as brisk walking, using the elliptical machine, or swimming) or one hour and 15 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity (such as running or cycling). This should be spread throughout the week and for most people will mean 30 to 60 minutes or cardio, most days of the week. In addition, recommendations call for strength training exercises at least twice a week.

Your options are limitless. You can hike, bike, run, walk, swim, dance, skate, or ski. Or you can play basketball, volleyball, soccer, or tennis. There are also aerobics programs, yoga studios, and karate dojos. When it comes to exercise, there’s something for everyone.

One excellent, widely available option is walking. Its low-impact nature means it’s gentle on joints, and it can be done anywhere: in your neighborhood, at the local mall, while on vacation, during your lunch break, and while waiting for your plane to board at the airport. Walking has been shown to raise high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the "good" kind) and lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the "bad" kind). It can reduce blood pressure and your risk for type 2 diabetes as well as act as a natural mood elevator. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and weather-appropriate clothing with some reflective material so cars can see you at night. Start with five minutes of slow walking to warm up your muscles, and then take a few minutes to stretch walking-centric muscle groups, including your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and sides. After you’ve finished your walk, cool down with a slower pace for five minutes, and stretch again.

In addition to helping you reach your weight loss goals, exercise yields plenty of other benefits:

It helps you manage your weight.

The tried-and-true weight loss rule says you must burn more calories than you consume, and exercise helps you comply. The more you exercise, the less you will have to reduce your food intake. Instead of eliminating 500 calories from your day, you could cut just 250 calories (a bag of chips or a slice of coffee cake) and then work off the other 250 at the gym (30 minutes on the elliptical machine).

It boosts energy levels.

Regular physical activity oxygenates the blood and delivers nutrients to tissues, revving up the cardiovascular system and boosting circulation. That means your heart and lungs don’t need to work as hard to function. The result: more energy to propel you through your day.

It improves your mood.

Banish stress with a hardcore Spin class or a more relaxing mind-body yoga workout. Either way, you’re sure to feel calmer afterward. That’s because physical activity stimulates the release of feel-good brain chemicals such as endorphins; they create the so-called “runner’s high” Regular physical activity has also been shown to help prevent depression. Duke University Medical Center reported that a brisk 30-minute walk or jog three times a week could be just as effective in relieving the symptoms of major depression as antidepressant medication.

It combats chronic disease.

Regular workouts can help you manage or prevent heart disease, elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer.