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Walking can improve mood thanks to our hunter-gatherer roots

Walking—regardless of where we do it, why we do it, and with whom we do it—has been shown to improve mood (file photo)

The benefits of walking… just put one foot in front of the other to improve your mood

  • It doesn’t matter where we do it, why we do it, or what we expect from the walk
  • Physical movement alone increases happiness thanks to our hunter-gatherer roots
  • Although the students were apprehensive beforehand, they felt better during the walk
  • “People underestimate how much a walk can do for their mood,” says the expert

A study found that simply putting one foot in front of the other for a few minutes can significantly improve our mood.

And it doesn’t matter where we do it, why we do it, with whom we do it or what effect we expect from the walk.

Psychologists say that the effects that cause happiness come from actual physical movement, which is related to how we evolved to move to find food and other rewards.

The researchers say their study is the first to show this by removing all the many factors associated with exercise — such as fresh air, being in nature, and the satisfaction of reaching fitness goals.

In essence, “movement not only causes an increased positive effect [emotional feelings] …but movement partly embodies or in some sense reflects positive affect,” wrote study authors from The Iowa State University in an article published in the journal Emotion.


Britain is in the grip of an “inactivity epidemic”, with almost half of adults failing to go for a brisk walk even once a month.

Health chiefs say 45 per cent of over-16s are too sedentary to take the ten-minute walk that would help them improve their health.

Public Health England (PHE) officials are particularly concerned about the more than 6 million inactive people aged between 40 and 60 who are putting their busy lives ahead of their health.

In a major change to the strategy, they said inactive people should start aiming to simply go for a short walk every day – rather than the more ambitious 150 minutes of exercise a week that dominated NHS advice for years.

They said the British population is now 20 per cent less active than in the 1960s and the average person walks 15 miles less per year than just two decades ago.

How the research was conducted

In three studies, the team tested hundreds of college students who were unaware of the real goals of the research to avoid biased responses.

Two of the studies showed that students who spent 12 minutes on a group walk around campus buildings or a boring walk alone around the interior of a campus building reported a more positive mood.

This was compared to another group that sat and viewed photographs of the same campus tour or watched a video tour of the interior of the same building.

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In the second study, positive effects on mood were also found, even though the researchers induced “fear” in participants before the walk by instructing them to write a two-page essay after the walk.

In the final study, students spent 10 minutes watching a Saatchi Gallery video alone, one, in three groups that either sat, stood or walked on a treadmill.

At the end, again, students who spent time walking showed more positive mood scores than those who sat or stood.

Authors Jeffrey Miller and Zlatan Krizan wrote, “People may underestimate how much simply getting off the couch and going for a walk will benefit their mood because they focus on the currently perceived obstacles rather than the potential mood benefits.”

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