It’s official ― you really can walk it off.
The simple decision to get up and take a stroll can significantly lift your mood even when you think it won’t, according to new research.
The study, published in the journal Emotion in August, showed that simply moving for approximately 12 minutes helped relieve negative emotions. Factors like good weather or a walking buddy weren’t even necessary for a walk to work it’s magic, the research found.
To figure this out, researchers asked more than 400 undergraduate students at Iowa State University to go on a walk in three different experiments that were designed to test volunteers’ moods and how walking affected them. In the first experiment, researchers just tested for the effect of a stroll, telling students to do nothing more than go for a walk around campus and report back.
In the second, the psychologists tested for environmental surroundings to see if where they walked matters. Participants toured the inside of a drab campus building and were informed they’d have to write a paper after the walk. Despite the unexciting views and knowing a hard project awaited them, participants still felt more positive, self-assured and attentive after a walk, according to the study.
The third experiment acted as a control test to confirm the previous two findings. Participants either walked on a treadmill or sat next to one. Those who walked experienced a significant boost in positive affect levels, while levels dipped for participants who stayed still.
The study’s results lend ammunition to the idea that a walk can help you prep for a tough task. For example, if you know you have to have a meeting with your boss, a quick stroll beforehand may be effective in calming your discomfort about it.
“There seems to be something about that brisk, confident walk that is really good for you,” Jeffrey Miller, study author and assistant professor in the psychology department at Saint Xavier University, told The Huffington Post.
On average, the students moved at a pace of about three miles per hour. This shows that the walk doesn’t even need to be overly aerobic for people to reap benefits, Miller said.
“It’s not really the pace that seems to be key, and what’s so neat is that it doesn’t really have to have any purpose,” he explained. “Whether you believe that you’re going to feel better or not, [after a walk] you’re going to feel better relative to not being in motion at all.”
Of course, it’s not just your mood that’s affected by the activity: The study builds on years of evidence regarding the overall health benefits of walking. Previous research shows putting one foot in front of the other may reduce dementia, prevent osteoarthritis, lower cancer risk, manage weight and get blood pressure in check.
So what are you waiting for? Go hit the streets. A good mood is only – literally – a short walk away.