Can Walking 10,000 Steps a Day Really Help Your Mental Health?

One of the most popular pieces of exercise and wellbeing advice over the last decade or so is that you should be aiming to walk 10,000 steps every day. Fitness devices start you off with a 10,000 step goal and many offices set up competitions and fundraising based on this gold standard. But can walking 10,000 steps a day really help your mental health?

There have been a lot of studies over the last 10 years that demonstrate the moderate effect that exercise can have on depression. As walking is a low-impact, low-cost, and accessible form of exercise, it makes sense that hitting 10,000 steps a day would be a great way for many people to boost their mental health.

In this blog, we’ll be looking at why this advice exists, and whether walking 10,000 steps a day can really help your mental health.

Why Should We Walk 10,000 Steps a Day?

You’d think that the advice that we walk 10,000 steps came from extensive research about the best and most effective number of steps to do to keep your mind and body in shape. In fact, it actually came from the name of a device developed by Japanese company Yamasa. The “Manpo-Kei” translates to “10,000 steps meter”, and the name stuck as the gold standard for step goals.

So, if the 10,000-step goal was just a marketing message, what do the experts say? Well, the scientific advice for your daily step count is a little more nuanced. The NHS recommends that adults should be aiming to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every week (or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity) to stay healthy. By following these recommendations, you reduce your risk of major illnesses like stroke, type two diabetes and even cancer, as well as improve your mental health.

Getting enough exercise can directly help your mental health in a number of different ways. By tiring you out over the course of the day, you’ll often find that you get better and more restful sleep. Physical activity also releases both cortisol, a hormone to help you manage stress, and other feel-good hormones to help improve your self-esteem and give you more energy. Last, but not least, it can give your brain a repetitive motion to focus on, which can help prevent or tackle intrusive or racing thoughts.

Walking, especially aiming to hit 10,000 steps a day, is a fantastic way to reach this goal. 10,000 steps add up to around 8km, and 1.5 to 2 hours of exercise every day, putting you well beyond the recommended exercise goal. It’s easy to remember, accessible for most people (you just need a good pair of shoes), and the added benefits of getting outside and having some time to yourself also have a really positive impact on your mental health.

Are 10,000 Steps Better for Your Health?

The advice might suggest 10,000 steps a day is the best for your health and your mental health, but this can seem like an insurmountable goal for many people. Do you actually need to hit this goal to feel all the benefits to your mental health?

There have been many different studies into whether this is the “golden number” that we should aim for, and they all seem to come to the same conclusion: no. In fact, a recent study in BMC Psychiatry observed participants in a 100-day, 10,000-step program to measure the effects on symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. While results did demonstrate a small but consistent impact on the participants’ mental health, this effect was felt regardless of whether someone hit the milestone or not.

What these studies show is that it doesn’t matter exactly how many steps you take on a given day. Carving out even a little bit of time every day to get moving will still help to improve your mental health, even if you’re only managing 1,000 steps. If walking doesn’t suit your lifestyle, you can even do other kinds of low-impact exercise at home. The benefits to your mental health come from moving your body.

Why Walking Has Extra Benefits to Mental Health

While exercise, in general, is a great way to help your mental health, there are a number of unique benefits that come from walking. First, walking often allows you to get outside into green spaces, which has long been shown to have a positive impact on mental health. This doesn’t mean you need to go out to your nearest field or park: there is lots of nature and greenery in even the most urban of areas that can benefit you.

Secondly, going out for a walk gives you time on your own to clear your head. Pop in some music or a podcast - or just listen to the sounds around you - and you’ll quickly be distracted from anything that’s troubling you. Walking doesn’t require any specialist equipment, so if you need a quick restart during the day it’s easy to just pop your shoes on and take a stroll.

For the ambitious, walking 10,000 steps a day really can help your mental health. It gives you something tangible to aim for, and it helps you to meet the recommended exercise goals from the NHS. However, you don’t necessarily need to hit 10,000 steps a day to feel the benefits - even just getting out for a quick 10-minute walk will help to give you a boost.

That being said, exercise isn’t the cure for any mental health issues and should be used as a part of an overall treatment plan. You may benefit from additional support through things like talking therapies - especially if you have been diagnosed with disorders such as depression, anxiety and stress. Book your consultation with the experts at The Awareness Centre today to explore how talking therapies can help you boost your mental health along with getting your daily steps in.

*This is a collaborative post*

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