Dr. Stacy Storey

Does walking really have an impact on our mental health? Let’s check it out. Everywhere you look you see people doing 10,000 steps a day for 30 days, or various challenges for walking and body movement during the day. While we know that there are physical benefits to moving our bodies and walking, what are the benefits for our mental health? Another trend that is all over social media are the walking pads under the desk, I can’t lie, I am walking on one as I write this. Are there benefits to slow walking during our workday, can walking while we work help to improve our mental state?

According to mentalhealth.org, even walking 10 mins, or brisk walking, can help to increase our mental state, increase awareness and alertness, as well as boost our overly daily energy, and help to change our mood from potentially negative to positive! Great start. We all work in different environments, or maybe we are supporting our family by staying home and raising our children. No matter what our jobs are, we can probably find 10 minutes to step away from responsibilities throughout the day, and offer ourselves the space to find some peace, get a boot of happy chemicals, and get our blood pumping. Not only are there benefits for our mental health from moving our bodies, but if you are able to go outside and walk, there are also mental health benefits from being in nature. There has been ample research on the impact of spending time in nature and how that can actually support the reduction of mild to moderate depressive symptoms. That is incredible! While we might not always be able to find the time, or the location, to become one with nature, just a walk through your neighborhood can still have an amazing effect on your mental state. 

Why is walking so good for our mental health? Walking allows for the body to increase the blood flow which then increases the blood flow and flow of oxygen to the brain. The brain is what supports the release of our “happy chemicals”, also known as endorphins and serotonin, which support our mood. Increasing the heart rate also plays an impact on the regulation of norepinephrine. Norepinephrine can feel good but too much or too little can support an increase in anxiety or depression. With increasing the movement of our bodies, the brain then can increase the levels of norepinephrine in the areas that are responsible for supporting the reduction of stress response. 

Now, let’s look at the pace of walking, whether we are outside walking briskly, or just plugging along while we type at our desks. Does the pace impact the benefits? While a brisk pace with support with a rapid increase in heart rate, thus pumping the blood faster, a slow walk will also increase the heart rate, and does have a positive impact on our mental health. Walking, at any pace, can also support immune function, and boost your energy! I do not know about anyone else, but improved immune function, less times getting sick, definitely helps my mental health, as well as a boost in my energy.

While we all live different lives, in different environments, with different schedules, finding what works for you is the most important thing. If you can sneak away for 10 minutes and find time for yourself, and get your body moving, that’s great! If you can devote an entire hour to physical/mental health, awesome! Find what works for you, and implement that into your day. Walking is not going to take away anxiety, or depression, but it can help to alleviate some symptoms or severity. If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, talking with a mental health provider and creating a plan for support is always a great first step.