Despite what some people think, you don’t need a fancy gym membership to get the health benefits of working out. Walking is something you probably do on a daily basis without a second thought. Whether you do it while completing chores around the house or commuting to work, walking is one of the most underestimated forms of exercise. However, science has shown time and again that simply walking can boost both your physical and mental health.
The best part is, your walk doesn’t have to eat up two hours of your time. Neither does it need to be strenuous to feel the positive impact walking can have on your body and brain. “Walking is known to have fantastic physical health benefits, but even a twenty minute walk can also provide a big boost to your mental health,” Stephanie Blozy, an expert in exercise science and the owner of Fleet Feet of West Hartford, CT, tells Bustle. “As you walk, your whole body wakes up — especially your mind.”
1. It Lowers Your Risk Of Developing Depression
If you needed some motivation to lace up your sneakers, do it for your mental health: As The Telegraph reported in April, a 49-study review led by King’s College London found that exercising for just twenty minutes a day could cut your risk of developing depression by a third. This review determined any kind of “moderate aerobic activity, such as cycling or brisk walking,” could boost your brain health.
2. It Improves Your Overall Cognitive Functioning
Harvard Health reported in 2016 that several studies have discovered that just twenty to thirty minutes of daily aerobic exercise improved overall cognitive function. Study participants who participated in aerobic activities, such as walking, performed better on tests. They even had a quicker and more accurate reaction time.
3. Walking Releases Endorphins
Like all forms of exercise, walking encourages your brain to release endorphins — a neurochemical that boosts your mental health, decreases your sensitivity to stress and pain, and can even make you feel euphoric. A 2018 survey conducted in the U.K. found that it took women a mere ten minutes of exercise to feel this “rush” of mood-boosting endorphins, as The Independent reported.
“Becoming consistent with your walking routine is also a great morale booster. You can’t help but feel proud of yourself when you conquer your daily goal — which, in turn, inspires you to keep the streak alive the next day and so on,” says Blozy. “Those success-based endorphins will empower you in other areas of your life both personally and professionally.”
4. It Also Releases The Protein BDNF
Science Daily explains that Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, aka, BDNF, is a protein that is “essential for neuronal development and survival, synaptic plasticity, and cognitive function.” Simply put, it’s extremely important to your brain health, and dysregulation of BDNF is actually associated with neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s Disease.
As one study published in January found, walking for thirty minutes at a “moderate intensity” increased the production of BDNF in the brains of post-stroke patients. So, walking at a quicker pace could be a key element to maintaining a healthy mind.
5. It Helps With Mental And Physical Fatigue
A 2008 study conducted at the University of Georgia found that just twenty minutes of low intensity exercise, like walking, can dramatically decrease fatigue. In fact, study participants that exercised for twenty minutes at a low intensity level, three times a week, reported a 65 percent reduction in their fatigue levels.
6. It Strengthens Your Hippocampus
If you struggle with memory problems and forgetfulness, walking may be one way to clear up the cognitive haze: As NPR reported, going for a walk, even briefly, can increase the size of your hippocampus — the region of your brain that plays a critical role in forming and storing memories, as well as the associated feelings that go along with those memories.