Another Reason to Take a Walking Break

That afternoon stroll may be the secret to better mental health, according to new research.

September 30, 2014

Anecdotally, we know that taking a walk to clear your head gives you a change of scenery, some fresh air, and even a more positive attitude. And finally, researchers agree: According to a study from the University of Michigan, group nature walks are linked with significantly lower depression, less stress, and better mental health overall. Additionally, study subjects who had recently encountered a stressful life event -- think serious illness, death of a loved one, unemployment -- experienced a mood boost immediately after heading outside to walk with a group.

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"For decades, walking has been used for stress relief, fat reduction, heart health, and overall fitness for all ages and fitness levels," said John Rowley, certified trainer and author of The Power of Positive Fitness. "So often, I hear that clients believe the only way to be 'fit' is to log hours in the gym -- but it's far from the truth!"

Sure, grabbing some girlfriends for a walk outside is great for your mental fitness -- but it does wonders for your workout, too. Here are Rowley's main reasons why:

1. You can't beat outdoor terrain: Whether you're walking on the street, a dirt path, or the beach, the changes in ground, wind resistance, curved roads, and natural hills outside will provide more resistance (read: a more challenging workout) than a boring indoor track or treadmill ever could.

2. Sunshine is good for you: "Working out outside is great for your vitamin D levels, as it gets you out in the sun," Rowley said. 

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3. Groups enhance your workout: Working out with friends keeps you accountable. In fact, a university study cited in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology revealed that those who recruited three friends or family members to assist them in their wellness journey had better weight loss results than those who had no buddy system to fall back on. That's exactly why workout buddies are a great source of encouragement to do the best you can. 

"Exercising in a group also allows us to make fitness a more enjoyable, social experience, and therefore becoming something you're more inclined to make a long-term habit," he added.