Why tell someone to “walk it off?” Because it works. Coaches often use this idiom in sports; its definition also suggests that going for a relaxing walk can boost a person’s mood. Walking helps a person physically and, consequently, mentally.
Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) Director Dr. Rear-Admiral Paul Reed explained, “Mental health and physical health are closely connected. No kidding — what’s good for the body is often good for the mind. Knowing what you can do physically that has this effect for you will change your day and your life.”
Researchers declare that walking can reduce stress and anxiety. Additionally, this exercise improves a person’s sleep routine and self-confidence. As a result, going for a walk can boost a person’s overall mood and energy.
However, the connections between depression, anxiety, and exercise are unclear.
“But working out and other forms of physical activity can definitely ease symptoms of depression or anxiety and make you feel better,” reported the Mayo Clinic.
Moreover, exercise can keep them from returning once a person’s mood improves.
Dr. Reed noted this excellent news: Even small amounts of physical activity — like a short walk — can improve a person’s mood by reducing anxiety and the risk of developing depression.
This improvement happens because exercise furnishes oxygen and nutrients for healthy lungs, the brain, and the heart. In addition, walking increases a person’s breathing, causing oxygen to travel faster through the bloodstream, promoting better health and mood.
Additionally, physical activity releases feel-good hormones or endorphins, the natural brain chemicals that can improve a person’s sense of well-being. For example, a California State University study revealed that the number of steps walked directly affects a person’s mood proportionally.
How Much Walking Is Needed to Improve Mood?
Many doctors and therapists recommend walking and exercise as natural remedies to help treat depression. According to VeryWellFit, “walking naturally does what many prescription drugs and herbs try to do artificially.”
In addition to increased oxygen helping to boost a person’s mood, walking calms their nerves and positively affects how they respond to stress.
Tori DeAngelis for the American Psychological Association (APA) explained that even moderate amounts of exercise decrease the chance of becoming depressed.
For example, in 2018, a small study of 66 adults found that brisk walking for 10 minutes or meditation improves a person’s mood compared to the inactive group. Notably, most doctors recommend walking at least 30 minutes three days a week.
It is important to remember that depression is a disease that can be serious and life-threatening. The APA recommends that a person consults a healthcare provider if their mood affects their life negatively or if they have suicidal thoughts.
Walking can be an effective part of treating mood disorders when combined with talk therapy and medication. Always talk with a doctor before starting a walking or exercise regimen.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
Writing Explained: What Does Walk It Off Mean?
Health.gov: Physical Activity Is Good for the Mind and the Body; by RDML Paul Reed, MD
Tuoms Press: Health Promotion Perspectives: Experimental effects of brief, single bouts of walking and meditation on mood profile in young adults; by Meghan K. Edwards and Paul D. Lorprinzi
VeryFitWell: How Walking Can Boost Your Mood and Reduce Stress; by Wendy Bumgardner, Reviewed by Michele Stanten, ACE-GFI
Arthritis Foundation: 12 Benefits of Walking