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18 May, 2022


There is no doubt that since the pandemic, there has been a surge in the desire to walk, for our physical health, for our mental health, and frankly for a primary excuse to escape being cooped up in our homes for too long. A UK government report comparing 2019 to 2020 found that miles walked per person increased by 7% to 220 miles per person, the highest levels since 2002 and that walking stages of over a mile increased by 26% to 92 stages per person. Evidently, this is wonderful news as now more than ever, walking is considered a key contributor to improved mental health.


How walking improves our mental health?

  • Oxygen saturation and blood vessel growth occur in areas of the brain associated with rational thinking as well as social, physical and intellectual performance.
  • It reduces stress hormones and increases serotonin and norepinephrine, chemicals in the brain which are known to accelerate information processing endorphins and dopamine – more feel-good chemicals – are released into the body and brain, usually with mood-boosting effects.
  • It helps to mitigate symptoms of seasonal depression through increased exposure to sunlight and vitamin D.
  • It boosts energy and vitality. Walking improves blood flow throughout the body and brain. A Harvard medical study also found that a brisk walk can improve your focus and sharpen your reaction times.
  • It is bilaterally stimulating, which can lead to a clearer mind.
  • It creates space for unconscious exploration to discover more about yourself. Allows for a re-connection with nature and the world around us.
  • How walking improves our physical health?
  • Walking will provide similar results to more vigorous exercise over time. For example, an hour walk could provide similar physical benefits to a 5k jog.
  • People who walked at least 2 hours every week had a 39% lower all-cause mortality rate (Jamanetwork, 2003).
  • People who walked at least 20 minutes, five days a week had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less (Harvard).
  • Breaking a workout into smaller chunks of time during the day has the same benefits as one long workout (CDC).

Where should we walk to help our mood even more?

Usually, with the ideal of walking comes the ideal of rolling green hills, peaceful silence other than the magical sounds of nature and fresh, clean air. However, for many of us, that is not the reality. So we ask ourselves, will going for a 20 minute walk in the city have the same health benefits as it would in the country?

There have been many studies that have proven that proximity to nature and greenery, or on a beach or near a body of water reduces stress and cortisol levels and significantly improves your mood. However, although a 2020 report also states that when people are under more stress, walking in nature results in the largest decrease in cortisol levels, a 2019 study published in Environmental Research and Public Health, found that a 50 min walk in any location makes a positive impact on acute measures of mental health.

That being said, the Stockholm Environment Institute in 2019 compared walking in urban green, urban quiet and urban busy settings. They discovered that participants may have been calmer in urban green areas (eg. city parks) and in the quiet streets than in the busy areas, but that there wasn’t much difference between the two. So, if there aren’t enough accessible green spaces near you, a brisk walk around a quiet, residential area could be just the thing.

How long should I be walking?

Scientists recommend walking for a minimum of 20 minutes as this is how long it takes for “feel-good hormones” (dopamine and serotonin) to be produced. But if we are to compare going for a more vigorous, shorter power walk to a longer, leisurely stroll? It is proven that 15 minutes of high intensity walking a day can equate to 30 minutes of moderate exercise. This will strengthen your cardiovascular health, improve cognitive function, activate your immune system and improve your mood.

Alternatively, a longer, slower walk will lead to the same heart health benefits but also decrease risk of injury and build your endurance (both physically and mentally). What’s more, you will be taking more time out for reflection and mental stimulus, helping with improved mood and reduced stress levels.

Therefore, if you can carve out a little more time, the better as a longer walk will reap the same physical benefits but with a higher chance of improved mental health benefits.

Tips for finding the motivation to walk?

  1. Start small and set yourself up for success by building endurance slowly and steadily. Start at a leisurely pace (eg. for the first 5 minutes of your walk) and then speed up, finishing with a more relaxed pace again for the last 5 minutes.
  2. Don’t place too much emphasis on your route. Have a vague plan that you know will full the 20-30 minutes but offer yourself the chance to explore and wander down alternative routes if you have the time. This way, you will likely want to spend a lot longer out and about!
  3. Aim to walk for about 30-45 minutes each day (about 2-4 miles), either all at once or broken into 10-minute chunks. Plan a playlist or save up your favourite podcasts for your walks to associate walking with enjoyment and entertainment.
  4. Walk with different people. Instead of meeting your friend at the pub, how about meeting them for a catch up and lap or two of the park? Or scheduling walking meetings instead of seated meetings? This could lead to greater creative sparks between you!
  5. Make sure you have the best and most comfortable footwear for walking. Do not make the mistake of risking it with your new boots. If your intention is to walk, make your kicks your priority.
  6. And don’t skimp on the layers in the cold or wet. Its always better to start out with more than less because you can always strip down if necessary. ‌
  7. Switch it up. Become familiar with a variety of different routes. Or take the bus somewhere a little further to explore a new area.