Let’s talk about walking. It’s such a simple activity, but it has so many health benefits that most of us never even think about. Walking helps people manage their weight, improves people’s cardiovascular health, reduces hypertension and makes your bones stronger.
Research also shows that aside from benefits for physical health, walking can greatly improve mental health, too. But despite what you might think, you don’t have to walk miles and miles to reap the mental health benefits. According to a study from Iowa State University, walking this short amount of time can give your mood a boost.
Why walking improves your mood
The study found that walking definitely improves your mood, and the authors suggest that the reason why might be because we are hard-wired to feel this way. Moving our bodies has always been connected to positive pursuits, like finding food.
“Movement not only causes increased positive affect [emotional feelings] … but movement partially embodies, or in a sense reflects, positive affect,” wrote co-authors Dr. Jeffrey Miller and Dr. Zlatan Krizan.
How long it takes for walking to improve your mood
According to the study, walking for only 12 minutes, even without factors like sunshine, nature, social contact, or music, has the ability to lift your mood.
In this study the researchers conducted three experiments to examine how walking induces positive emotions. The first experiment had one group of college students take a walk through campus buildings wile a control group watched a video or browsed through photos, effectively testing the effects of walking vs. not walking. Those who walked through campus felt stronger positive emotions such as elf-assurance, joy, and vigor, while the control subjects saw a decrease in both attentiveness and mood.
The second experiment had students complete a walking tour and then write an essay. The essay, which was designed to add some pressure to the students walk, did not take away from the positive benefits of their walk. Students moods were still elevated from their walk around campus.
The third experiment had students walk on a treadmill, effectively taking nature out of the equation. Even without nature, students enjoyed mood-boosting results compared to participants who did not walk at all.
Despite the results of the third experiment, walking outside in nature can maximize the mood boosting benefits of a walk, according to 2018 research in the Environment and Behavior journal.
How you can use your walk to feel even happier
Another study from Iowa State University researchers found that walking around and offering “loving-kindness” to others can also make you feel happier, more connected, caring and empathetic, and less anxious.
“Walking around and offering kindness to others in the world reduces anxiety and increases happiness and feelings of social connection,” said Douglas Gentile, professor of psychology at Iowa State University. “It’s a simple strategy that doesn’t take a lot of time that you can incorporate into your daily activities.”
The study, published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, tested the benefits of three techniques that are designed to reduce anxiety and increase happiness or well-being.
The three techniques are:
- Loving-kindness: This technique involves looking at those around them and thinking, “I wish for this person to be happy.”
Interconnectedness: This technique involves looking at the people they see and thinking about possible ways they are connected to each other. For example, students could think about hopes and feelings they may share or that they might take a similar class.
- Downward social comparison: This technique involves looking at those around you and thinking about how they might be better off than each of the people they encountered.
The study also included a control group of students who were instructed to look at people and focus on what they see on the outside. For example, they were asked to note clothing, the combination of colors, textures as well as makeup and accessories.
Students from all groups were surveyed before and after their walk in order to measure levels of anxiety, happiness, stress, empathy and connectedness.
The researchers found that those who practiced loving-kindness or wished others well felt happier. Those that practiced the interconnectedness technique were more empathetic and connected than the rest of the groups.
Those who practiced the downward social comparison technique showed no benefit, and actually were significantly worse than those who practiced the loving-kindness technique. Those who practiced comparing themselves to others felt less empathetic, caring and connected than students who extended well wishes to others.
While previous studies have shown that downward social comparison has a “buffering effect” when we are feeling down about ourselves, these researchers found the opposite.
“At its core, downward social comparison is a competitive strategy,” said Dawn Sweet, coauthor of the study. “That’s not to say it can’t have some benefit, but competitive mindsets have been linked to stress, anxiety and depression.”
The researchers expected people who are naturally mindful to benefit more from the loving-kindness strategy, but in fact this practice is valuable regardless of personality type.
“Extending loving-kindness to others worked equally well to reduce anxiety, increase happiness, empathy and feelings of social connection,” said Lanmiao He, a graduate student in psychology who aided the researchers in this study.
Jennifer Fabiano is an SEO reporter at Ladders.