Walking Promotes Positivity
(even when we’re least expecting it)
We all know that exercise is good for us. An abundance of research carried out over the last few decades attests to this. Medical professionals, researchers and practitioners from a variety of modalities all reinforce the same message; regular exercise, even just 30 minutes a day, results in many health benefits. Whether they are physical health benefits, such as lowering our risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease or mental health benefits, such as reducing depression, anxiety and stress. According to Harvard Health, exercise can be the key to why some people not only survive, but also thrive later in life.
So the physical and mental health benefits of regular exercise are well researched and understood, but did you know that the simple act of walking can lift your mood, even when you don’t expect it to?
Two psychologists at Iowa State University have found just this.
Miller and Krizan, the psychologists heading up the research, claim that their study, published in Emotion, is the first to demonstrate that the simple act of walking is a powerful mood lifter, in and of itself. This powerful effect occurs uninfluenced by the many confounds typically associated with research into exercise. For example, it has been said that fresh air, social contact or engagement with nature lift a person’s mood when walking.
According to Miller and Krizan, their experiments show that the mere act of putting one foot in front of the other has a significant positive impact on our mood, regardless of where we walk, why we walk or what we expect the effect of walking will be.
The reason for this, Miller and Krizan believe, is to do with human evolution, in particular, how we have evolved to move to find food, resources and rewards. This causes ‘movement’ to be closely linked with experiencing positive emotions.
So how did they show that walking lifts our mood?
The researchers conducted three studies involving hundreds of people. All the participants were unaware of the true aim of the studies.
In the first and second studies, participants went on a walking tour of a university campus in a group or on their own (in what was meant to be a boring experience). They all reported higher positive mood than those who watched a video of the campus tour or who looked at photos of the campus buildings.
So it was revealed that ambulation (walking) facilitates positive affect, even when the person doesn’t know the purpose of the activity or has little interest in walking.
Some participants were even told that they would have to write an essay after the walking tour, which was intended to provoke a sense of dread. Even this didn’t prevent them from reporting ratings of positive mood, greater than those who were in the sitting condition and had no dread provoked.
In the third study, three groups of participants watched a Saatchi Gallery video for ten minutes:
- The first group watched the video while sitting on a treadmill.
- The second group watched the video while standing on a treadmill.
- The third group watched the video while walking on a treadmill.
The results showed that participants who had walked on the treadmill had the highest positive mood scores, compared to those who were standing or sitting.
The research findings together led Miller and Krizan to conclude ‘that incidental ambulation systematically promotes positive affect regardless of the focus on such movement, and that it can override the effects of other emotionally relevant events such as boredom and dread.’
In other words, incidental activity such as walking helps a person to cultivate positive emotions and enhance their mood.
So if you want to lift your mood and experience positive emotions, this study suggests you don’t need to engage in vigorous exercise or high intensity exercise (although remember this too has its benefits!). It may help you to do something as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.
This is good news for those of us who may find it difficult to engage in vigorous exercise (for reasons such as chronic illness, fatigue or injury) because now we can be confident that we can increase our positive emotions and influence our mood, contributing to improving our overall well-being, by walking.
So remember: walking can be a powerful mood booster. The mere act of putting one foot in front of the other may help to boost your mood, even if you’re expecting the opposite.
If you want to start increasing your wellbeing through walking, why not join our new walking group in 2017, starting at 8am on Monday 6th February. No need to book, simply meet outside reception and join facilitator Barbara Nicolay for a one hour walk around beautiful Cottesloe.
For further details about our walking group or any of the other activities on offer at Solaris Cancer Care Wanslea, please give us a call on 08 9384 3544.
By Kirsty Wood, Counsellor and registered Psychologist
Solaris Cancer Care Wanslea
- Miller, J. & Krizan, Z. (2016). Walking facilitates positive affect (even when expecting the opposite), Emotion, 16 (5), 775-785.
- Harvard Health Publications. (2014). Exercise is still the best medicine. http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercise-is-still-the-best-medicine