The Mental Health Day, which is observed all over the world on October 10 every year, is all about raising awareness. This year, many people, celebrities, and experts took it to social media to discuss how people can improve their destroyed state of mind. But weeks ago, US scientists released a report, saying that they have noticed a simple way that can help people suffering from mental health issues.
As per a study done by the University of California San Francisco researchers, weekly 15-minute "awe walks" have positive effects on mental health, emotions, and most likely to cognitive function.
How Walking Can Help
Earlier in 2020, before the Coronavirus pandemic hit the world, the team of researchers recruited healthy adults over the age of 60 to find out the effects of awe walks on mental and emotional health. The elderly participants were selected as scientists who knew that negative emotions can affect their physical health.
Virginia Sturm, an associated professor at UCSF led the team of other researchers to conduct the experiment to find a new, low-cost way to improve mental health. The participants were randomly assigned to one of the two groups. As per the study, published in the journal Emotion, the control group members were asked to take a 15-minute walk outdoors at least once in a week alone and at a very easy pace. These people were asked not to use their smartphones or any other devices during the walk.
The group was asked to do the same and the participants of the group were encouraged to experience awe during their walks. UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner, an expert in emotion said that the feelings of awe help people to feel more generous and humble while increasing our overall well-being.
She also explained that "awe is a positive emotion triggered by awareness of something vastly larger than the self and not immediately understandable — such as nature, art, music, or being caught up in collective action such as a ceremony, concert or political march."
While the researchers followed both groups continuously until eight weeks, the participants filled out daily surveys to assess their emotional development. They also filled out the surveys that asked them what they were thinking during the walks. Even the researchers asked people to take selfies at the beginning and at the end of each walk.
The results of the daily survey showed that even though the controlled groups took more walks than the awe group, the awe group noticed a marked improvement in prosocial emotions, including compassion and gratitude. The researchers also noticed that the awe group showed a decrease in feeling distress.
Even the selfies, which were reviews by the researchers trained in analyzing facial expression, without knowing which participant was in which group, revealed that the awe group had noticeably happier smiles.
Even though it is not easy to believe that a 15 minutes' walk can play a role to improve your emotions, the researches found that it really helps. Even a mental health advocate, Lottie Winter--who was not part of the research--described her own experience and wrote that "during the darker days of [Coronavirus] lockdown, when our one-hour daily walks served as the only reminder of the outside world, I found walking to be a bit of a lifeline when it came to mental health."