Do you walk every day? Maybe you belong to the group of people who consider walking a kind of non-serious exercise that doesn’t deserve your time.
The truth is, many of us may underestimate walking probably because it’s something we commonly do both indoors and outdoors. Whether it’s brisk or slow strolling we get used to it and as a result see it as not as effective as other types of training. Well, that makes some sense.
But what if I told you that a nice walk daily for 20-30 minutes may benefit not only your physical but mental health? Of course you can’t call it a major remedy for your mental issues, but it can speed up your healing process.
It’s high time you read this article and discover the benefits of walking for your well-being. And if you haven’t taken part in this activity for a while, why don’t you slip on some comfy shoes and clothing, get outdoors, and restore your powers in just 20 minutes.
Is a walk really helpful for mental health? Here’s what a short walk can do to your body.
Are walks good for mental health?
The short answer is yes, walks are good for mental health. But you came here for an explanation, and not vague statements.
Let’s cover some research and statistics.
First, there are many types of mental disorders:
- Bipolar Disorder
- Eating Disorders
- Disruptive behavior and dissocial disorders
- Neurodevelopmental disorders (3).
According to a study funded by the Health Research Board which appeared in JAMA Network Open, a 20-minute brisk walk just 5 times a week can significantly reduce the risk of depression (5). This is great evidence highlighting the mental health benefits of walking outside.
Another study demonstrates that 90 minutes of walking in the natural area decreases activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression (4).
Now, let’s move to walking and mental health statistics.
American Psychological Association highlights:
- 18% of reduced risk of depression among adults who get just half the recommended amount of physical activity per week—the equivalent of about 75 minutes of brisk walking—compared with adults who report no physical activity.
- 25% of adults who take 2.5 hours of brisk walking per week report a lowered risk of depression (6).
If you’ve dipped your toes in meditation before but couldn’t sit through a session because of all the thoughts buzzing in your head, impulses snatching away control or all the overwhelming feelings that start bubbling up the minute you sink into the silence, it’s only because you didn’t have the right guidance. Start using BetterMe: Meditation & Sleep app and watch your life transform!
Is walking a form of therapy?
You may have no doubts about the mental benefits of walking. Adding it to your Self-Care Checklist would be one of your best decisions. But can you call walking a form of therapy?
It entirely depends on the situation. Plus, there was even research which suggested that long-distance walking may be considered a form of psychotherapy. However, the conclusion lets us know that future studies must be conducted to prove that long-distance walking could be a form of psychotherapy (1).
Still, that doesn’t prove that the emotional benefits of walking are pointless. You should consider daily walks as they can positively affect your mood and physical health. A short walk around your block or in the park every day can promote your physical health by:
- improving your sleep
- giving better endurance
- promoting weight loss
- improving cardiovascular health and reducing cholesterol (2).
It’s mind-blowing how much you get without sweating at the gym or running.
How does walking clear your mind?
There are two words perfectly fitting into the answer to this question – Mindful Walking. This is the exact type of walking you can use to clear your mind and break from your internal worries.
Mindful walking is the type of activity allowing you to acknowledge and enjoy the present moment and observe things around you. Let’s face it, we constantly either focus on our past actions or on the future. But how often do we concentrate on the present? Unfortunately, rarely.
This type of walking can help you clear your mind from nagging thoughts and highlight truly important things you don’t notice most of the time. To practice mindful walking you will need to:
- put on comfortable shoes and clothing and get outside
- move to any area where you feel safe and relaxed
- switch on all the senses to relish a full picture (watch the area and people around: what they’re wearing, their gestures, and emotions; feel the smell of grass and flowers; hear the voices of people and laughter of children; taste something delicious while you’re walking; feel the ground under your feet)
You may not necessarily walk on your own. Jazz it up by inviting your friend or companion. Sometimes other people are the ones who help us clear our heads and look at the situation from a different perspective.
If you’re not into observations or prefer a solo walk, you can clear your head with music or your favorite podcast. The thing is, the top benefit of walking is that there is no right or wrong option. You can do whatever makes you content and relaxed.
How long does it take to walk outside for mental health?
You have read about the study which suggested 90 minutes of walking outside for your mental health. But we all know that some people may not have and not want to contribute so much time to walking (4).
The main tip here is to do something for some amount of time rather than nothing at all. That said, strolling for 3 days a week for 10-15 minutes at a time can also be enough for your mental and physical health (2). This may help you ward off depression and improve your self-esteem.
Gradually, you will move to either longer distances or enjoy your walking routine every day.
What are 2 mental benefits of walking?
The two main benefits of walking on mental health are:
- stress relief
- reduced depression
But how does it work?
This activity helps boost your mood as it increases blood flow and blood circulation to the brain and body. It has a positive impact on your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is your central nervous response system (2).
The HPA axis is responsible for your stress response. When you exercise by walking, you calm your nerves, which makes you feel less stressed.
And as was mentioned already, a 20-minute brisk walk 5 times a week can significantly reduce the symptoms of depression.
How do I start walking after being sedentary?
You got all the benefits of walking for physical and mental health and now desire to get up from that chair and go outside. But something is interfering with your intentions: Lack Of Motivation or simple laziness.
Forget about those excuses, look at the potential benefits of walking again and create a walking routine on your own.
Check out a few hacks to get you started:
- Start with short walks. Take a 5-10 minute walk during your lunch break. Working from home? Stroll for 5 minutes around your room. When this becomes a routine, upgrade to 20 minutes after work. Find enough time during the day for your walks.
A special tip: Stick colorful notes with your schedule on the wall where you jot down the necessary walking minutes for your day. A visual schedule is a good way to remind yourself of every activity.
- Make walking enjoyable. If you enjoy solo walking, you can grab a phone and turn on a podcast or use no devices and walk mindfully. If you don’t like walking by yourself, you can ask a trustworthy neighbor or a friend to join you. You can consider joining a walking group or a health club.
- Don’t forget about comfort. Wear comfortable shoes that won’t hurt your feet if you’re hiking for long distances. Put on clothing that can help in unpredictable weather conditions. Water-repellent synthetic fabric will keep you cool and dry if you work up a sweat.
- Walk safely. If you’re planning on walking at night, put on brightly colored clothing and a reflector to help cars see you when they’re passing by. Watch your surroundings, and always stay safe.
- Switch up your routine. If you stroll outdoors, experiment with different routes. If you’re walking on your own, tell someone which route you’re taking for the day. Always consider well-lit and safe locations.
- Don’t worry about missed days. There’s nothing wrong with missing days. There might be some unpredictable situations or you can just lack a desire. Get back to your walking routine by reminding yourself of how good you feel when you include physical activity in your lifestyle (2).
Running a never-ending rat race, shoving trauma further and further away, falling into self-harming thought patterns, living life that’s eclipsed by constant anxiety and fear – this is what an average person goes through every day. Not addressing it will only pull you deeper into a downward spiral. BetterMe: Meditation & Sleep app will help you gain a new perspective on life and help you regain that long-lost internal balance!
Does walking make you happier?
One of the major benefits of walking on mental health is improvements in your mood. Walking can help you reduce your stress levels, and anxiety, and alleviate symptoms of depression. It promotes the release of endorphins and adrenaline which make you happier.
Why does walking calm your mind?
Studies show the soothing impact of walking on your brain. If you’re feeling nervous, anxious, or worried, you can walk for 10-15 minutes outside and feel better. This can happen because walking releases endorphins in the brain which eases stress and benefits your mood.
Why do I think better when I walk?
When you’re overwhelmed your brain needs to change its focus. Therefore, walking activity stimulates blood flow, sending oxygen to your brain, which gives you the ability to concentrate and think better.
The Bottom Line
Is a walk for mental health really helpful? Here’s what a short walk can do to your body.
To sum up, walking is a healthy activity providing essential benefits for physical and mental health: it may relieve stress, symptoms of depression and anxiety, and boost your mood.
Incorporating walking into your daily routine may also benefit your sleep, endurance, weight, and cardiovascular health.
You can start your walking routine with 5-10 minutes daily and gradually move to longer distances.
Please note that walking is not the major remedy for treating mental disorders. Contact a professional therapist if you’re dealing with mental health issues.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Are Long-Distance Walks Therapeutic? A Systematic Scoping Review of the Conceptualization of Long-Distance Walking and Its Relation to Mental Health (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Mental Benefits of Walking (2021, webmd.com)
- Mental disorders (2022, who.int)
- Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation (2015, pnas.org)
- Physical Activity Dose and Depression in a Cohort of Older Adults in The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (2023, jamanetwork.com)
- Want to boost your mental health? Take a walk (2022, apa.org)