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 while completing chores around the house or commuting to work — making it 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, or be a strenuous hike 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.”
Seriously — all you need is 30 spare minutes in your schedule to get the benefits of walking. According to science, this is how even a 20 to 30 minute walk can change your brain for the better.
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. The review determined that 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, and 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.”
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.
7. It Improves Creativity
Stuck on an important paper or project? Moving may be the cure to your creative rut. Blozy says that, even after twenty minutes of walking, “You become more creative and think more sharply, which is why it’s the perfect antidote for writer’s block.” A Stanford study published in 2014 confirmed this, finding that walking increased a person’s “creative output” by an average of 60 percent.
8. Walking Increases Blood Flow In Your Brain
CBS News reported in 2017 that a recent study discovered twenty minutes of walking increased cerebral blood flow. And, like with any major organ, increasing circulation is super important to the health of both your brain and body. As the website Brain MD Health explained, blood flow helps to bring “nutrients to your cells, and takes away toxins.”
Walking may not make you break a sweat like running or a pilates class does, but that doesn’t mean it’s a less effective workout. Taking a twenty-minute walk around your neighborhood or the closest park, or opting to walk instead of riding the bus on your way home from work, will keep your brain healthy in the long run.
By KYLI RODRIGUEZ-CAYRO for BUSTLE