Taking a walk is the health community's answer to almost every malady. Feeling tired? Take a walk. Feeling depressed? Walk. Need to lose weight? Walk. Have a bad memory? Walk. Need some fresh ideas? Walk. You get the idea. But sometimes a girl just really doesn't want to take a walk! It's cold, you're tired, the dog hid your shoes, and, most of all, you don't think a walk is going to help you feel better. Well, researchers have an answer for that too: Walk anyhow.
Before you roll your eyes and crawl back in bed, hear them out. People who "dreaded" walking and even said they expected it to make them feel worse still ended up feeling substantially better after a short walk, despite their dire predictions, according to a paper published in Emotion.
To test the connection between walking and mood, Iowa State researchers created three experiments. In the first, they asked new students to either take a walking tour of campus or watch a video of the same campus tour; the second experiment asked students to take a "boring" indoor tour or watch a video of the same tour; while the third setup had students watch a tour video while either sitting, standing, or walking on an indoor treadmill. Oh, and to really make it sound awful, the researchers told the students they'd have to write a two-page paper about whichever tour experience they had. Forced walking (or watching) and extra homework? No wonder the students reported they were seriously dreading it!
The students who watched a video tour reported feeling worse afterward, as one might expect. But all the walking students, regardless of which environment they walked in (outdoors, indoors, or treadmill), reported feeling not just happier but also more jovial, invigorated, positive, alert, attentive, and self-assured. And because walking is such powerful medicine, you only need a small dose to experience the boost in well-being—the students in the study got all those benefits after just a 10-minute leisurely stroll.
"People may underestimate the extent to which just getting off their couch and going for a walk will benefit their mood as they focus on momentarily perceived barriers rather than eventual mood benefits," the researchers concluded in the paper.
While this paper only looked at the positive effects of walking, previous research has shown that any type of exercise has serious mood-boosting powers. And to maximize all the health bonuses, do your workout outside. A meta-analysis published in Environmental Science and Technology found that exercising outdoors provides mental and physical benefits that working out indoors doesn't.
But regardless of where or how you exercise, the message from this research is clear: When it comes to working out, just do it—you'll be glad you did.