Mental Benefits of Walking

Medically Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on February 28, 2024
4 min read

Walking provides the best of both worlds. It offers the physical benefits of exercise while also boosting your emotional well-being. In fact, walking regularly can help ease symptoms related to chronic mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

You can walk anywhere without equipment or a special membership. The more you do it, the more positive effects you’ll experience.

There are numerous benefits of walking. Some of the most common include.

  • Improved sleep
  • Better endurance
  • Stress relief
  • Improvement in mood
  • Increased energy and stamina
  • Reduced tiredness that can increase mental alertness
  • Weight loss
  • Reduced cholesterol and improved cardiovascular (heart) health

Walking helps boost your mood because it increases blood flow and blood circulation to the brain and body. It has a positive influence on your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is your central nervous response system. This is good because the HPA axis is responsible for your stress response. When you exercise by walking, you calm your nerves, which can make you feel less stressed.

You can build on the positive effects of walking by inviting friends to join you. Walking with others for one or two days per week can have enormous benefits. Physical exercise combined with positive social interactions can improve negative moods, ward off depression, and improve self-esteem. Try to walk 3 days a week for 10-30 minutes at a time.

One of the best ways to begin a new walking routine is to start small and take it easy on yourself as you gradually build up endurance. Before you take a long walk, stretch to warm up. Start at a pace that feels relaxed, then build up to a brisk walk. Toward the end of your walk, give yourself time to slow down again.

Each time you go out, carve out a comfortable walking route, then extend your distance over the next few days or weeks. Give yourself goals to reach and celebrate your wins. Remember, it's not always about the length of your route. It's also about the quality of the walk and the benefits you get from doing it consistently.

A good rule of thumb is to walk for about 30-45 minutes, either all at once or broken into 10-minute chunks. This ends up being about 2-4 miles. You can measure your distance by wearing a watch to measure the time or buckling a pedometer to your belt to measure the distance.

Here are some helpful tips to get you started:

Set yourself up for success. Start with a simple goal such as taking a 5-minute walk during your lunch break. When this becomes a routine, set a new goal like walking for 20 minutes after work. Find enough time during the day for your walks. With this plan, you could be setting goals that seemed impossible at the start.

Make walking enjoyable. If you don't like walking by yourself, you can ask a neighbor or a friend to join you. If your group energizes you, consider joining a walking group or a health club. You can try listening to music. This might make walking less boring.

Don't forget about comfort. You'll want to have comfortable shoes that won't hurt your feet if you're walking for long distances. It's helpful to give some thought to what you want to wear as well. Layers can help in unpredictable weather conditions. Water-repellent synthetic fabric can help keep you cool and dry if you work up a sweat.

‌Do it safely. If you're planning on walking at night, consider wearing brightly colored clothing and a reflector to help cars see you when they're passing by. Keep an eye on your surroundings, and always stay safe.

‌Switch up your routine. If you walk outdoors, you can plan a variety of different routes. If you're walking by yourself, tell someone which route you're taking for the day. Always walk in well-lit and safe locations.

‌Don’t worry about missed days. If you find yourself forgetting to go on your daily walks from time to time, don't give up. Get back on track by reminding yourself of how good you feel when you include physical activity in your daily routine.

Walking can offer wonderful mental benefits. The key is to do it consistently. Balance it with a healthy lifestyle and supportive environment. This could include eating a nutritious diet, getting enough sleep, and surrounding yourself with positive influences.

It’s also important to consider that although walking can be a powerful tool, it's not a substitute for professional mental health treatment. Also consider talking to a licensed mental health professional.