Does walking improve mood?

6 ways walking can benefit your mood

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S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
Ask Louise

06 July 2021

Does walking improve mood?

Walking can improve mood for various reasons. It releases mood-boosting endorphins, it provides exposure to green space which is positive for our wellbeing, plus the sounds of nature are calming. On top of this, walking can be a form of meditation, it builds confidence and it is social, all of which are good for mood.

How walking can boost your mood and reduce stress

Figures from April 2020 show that more of us are walking than ever before. A massive 20.3 million of us are now walking for leisure, so it seems that many of us are coming to appreciate this simple and fun activity. (1)

Walking has loads of benefits for our health, from improved stamina to better heart health. It is also really good for our mood and stress levels.

Let's take a look at the 6 specific ways walking can help improve your mood in more detail:

1. Endorphins are released

Walking is a really easy way to get a release of endorphins. These are chemicals that can positively influence mood but may also have a bearing on pain levels and stress levels. This is because they reduce the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.

So, keeping up regular walks is a good way to improve your mood and stress levels on a regular basis.

2. Flowers/plants improve well-being

If you are lucky enough to be able to take a walk in a park or other natural environment, you'll be exposed to flowers, plants, and green space, which bring additional benefits for mood.

Being around plants, for example, has been found to be particularly stress-relieving. In fact, when workers kept just one plant on their desk at work and took breaks to care for it, their anxiety levels fell. (2) So, if this is the effect that just one plant can have on our wellbeing, the effects are unsurprisingly going to be much more significant if we are exposed to a whole array of plants, trees, and natural environments when out for a walk!

In fact, this is precisely the case! In research, it has been found that an area of the brain called the cingulate is sensitive to green areas. It interacts with stress regulation responses, helping to improve motivation and positivity. (3)

3. The sounds of nature are calming

The sound of nature is another aspect of walking that can influence mood.

Natural sounds such as bird calls or the wind have been found to have a positive influence on the body's 'fight or flight response', ultimately helping to promote relaxation and wellbeing. Scientists have also revealed that these kinds of sounds may help to turn our attention outwards, rather than inwards, as is often seen in cases of depression, anxiety and stress.

On top of this, in one study, there was an increase in the rest-digest nervous system activity of participants who listened to natural sounds. This system is associated with the relaxation of the body, giving us further evidence of the calming influence of nature. (4) Even more interestingly, it was those who were already feeling quite stressed or anxious who were found to experience the greatest benefit to their mood when exposed to natural sounds.

4. Walking is a form of meditation

Meditation can promote calm and improve wellbeing by helping to focus the attention on a particular thought, movement or activity. Walking itself can be a form of meditation, though a more formal version is known as mindful walking.

Here the focus is on tuning in to the environment around you as you walk (the sounds, smells, sights, etc), as well as how the activity makes you feel. The aim here is to be present in the moment to help support a degree of calm.

To help you with mindful walking, you may want to consider listening to a podcast on it. The charity 'Paths For All' has one narrated by Edith Bowman or you could use the app 'Headspace' for a more general meditation playlist.

5. Walking builds confidence

Regular walking can improve fitness and this too can have a knock-on effect on mood as people begin to feel more positive and confident about their health and body.

To get the most out of walking in regards to your health, try increasing the speed of your walk or factor in some hills every so often.

6. Walking is a chance to be social

Finally, walking can be a social activity which is really helpful for raising mood.

It can help to keep away feelings of loneliness, for example, and brings a sense of community or belonging. There is also the opportunity to share experiences and provide/receive support from others. All of these factors have a positive impact on mood and stress.

So, whether you are just going for a stroll with a friend or you sign up for a more formal walking group, it is a good idea to make walking social to help your mood further.

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