It’s such a simple activity, but it has so many health benefits that most of us never even think about. Walking helps people manage their weight, improves people’s cardiovascular health, reduces hypertension and makes your bones stronger.
Research also shows that aside from benefits for physical health, walking can greatly improve mental health, too. But despite what you might think, you don’t have to walk miles and miles to reap the mental health benefits.
Why walking improves your mood
According to the study, walking for only 12 minutes, even without factors like sunshine, nature, social contact, or music, has the ability to lift your mood.
How you can use your walk to feel even happier
A study from Iowa State University researchers found that walking around and offering loving-kindness to others can also make you feel happier, more connected, caring and empathetic, and less anxious.
The study, published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, tested the benefits of three techniques that are designed to reduce anxiety and increase happiness or well-being.
- Loving-kindness – This technique involves looking at those around them and thinking, “I wish for this person to be happy.” In the bargain you feel happier.
- Inter-connectedness – This technique involves looking at the people they see and thinking about possible ways they are connected to each other. For example, students could think about hopes and feelings they may share or that they might take a similar class. These were more empathetic and connected than the rest of the groups.
- Downward social comparison –This technique involves looking at those around you and thinking about how they might be better off than each of the people they encountered. Those who practiced the downward social comparison technique showed no benefit, and actually were significantly worse than those who practiced the loving-kindness technique. Those who practiced comparing themselves to others felt less empathetic, caring and connected than students who extended well wishes to others. While previous studies have shown that downward social comparison has a “buffering effect” when we are feeling down about ourselves, these researchers found the opposite.
“At its core, downward social comparison is a competitive strategy, That’s not to say it can’t have some benefit, but competitive mindsets have been linked to stress, anxiety and depression.”
The study also included a control group of students who were instructed to look at people and focus on what they see on the outside. For example, they were asked to note clothing, the combination of colors, textures as well as makeup and accessories.
Students from all groups were surveyed before and after their walk in order to measure levels of anxiety, happiness, stress, empathy and connectedness.