What Walking For Just 20 Minutes Can Do For Your Mood

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Sometimes it's necessary to just get out into the world and take a walk — to calm down, de-stress, or simply enjoy the nice weather while we still have it. And experts note that just a 20 minute walk can have a genuine boost on your mood and energy, for reasons related to movement, exposure to green space and fresh air, and psychological reaction to the environment. But you have to be prepared to really reap the benefits. Fortunately, though, that type of preparation might be simpler than you think.

"Humans need to be outside," Caleb Backe, a personal trainer and wellness expert for Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. "Moving one’s body, especially outdoors, is one of the healthiest things you can do. There is a reason why dog-owners are considered happier and more social overall. It’s not just the dog, it’s them." And even 20 minutes can do real work to improve your mood. "It’s a great habit to form, and it takes nothing to start. No money, no forms, no lines, no machines to wipe down. Just walk," says Backe.

So how can walking 20 minutes, or around a mile, help your mood? "When your body is in motion — and more than that: when you intentionally set aside time to walk outside — your mental health also improves," says Backe. "It is a chance to do some light mental decluttering, to simply walk and breathe and take in the world around you."

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One of the main ways in which taking a short walk can help your mood, he notes, is hormonal. "Your body’s messengers — the hormones — work to create and maintain moods and feelings of all kinds, at any given time. Walking at a nice brisk pace can boost your endorphin levels, just like many other exercises. Over time, walking outside can help to build a calmer, kinder, and happier you."

However, experts also tell Bustle that how you think when you go for that walk will also help your mood significantly. The key is intentionality: being aware of your body and how it moves through space, and therefore becoming more relaxed and stable. "When it comes to light exercise, the most important thing isn't necessarily what you do, it's how you do it," Kait Hurley, founder of the Move + Meditate Method, tells Bustle. "As you move, can you feel your feet on the floor? Are you breathing? Are you aware of the physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions present in your body?"

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This sort of mindful present-ness is one of the best ways in which 20 minutes of walking can alleviate your mood. These questions, Hurley says, "allow you to get curious and check in with yourself in a deeper more meaningful way. Giving yourself a chance to settle into the moment with light exercise is practice for being more present and focused the rest of your day. It's helped me have a healthier relationship with myself and everyone else."

So stomping around in a funk, lost in your own anger or problems, won't help your mood at all, and probably won't help solve anything. If you want to reap the full benefits of a brief walk, really be present, be aware of your environment and your body, and take the opportunity to be a bit mindful. Go for that short hike or meandering walk. It'll have more impact than you think.