Establishing a consistent exercise routine like walking has plenty of benefits, from improved sleep to better cardiovascular health to lowered risk of chronic disease and more regulated hormone balance.
There’s also ample evidence it can help lower depression risk as well — and the best news for those who are time-crunched is it doesn’t take much to see benefits. In fact, if you have just 10 minutes for a brisk stroll, that may be enough to see results.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, researchers have found a 10-minute walk may be as good as a 45-minute workout. They note that the effects may not last as long as you’d find from an extended fitness session, but they’re notable enough to give you a boost when you need it.
The connection between exercise and emotional health is well established, with studies suggesting activity like walking can help lift depression thanks to improved mobility and lowered pain levels. Some research also suggests getting these kinds of short walks may even prevent depression.
For example, research in Current Sports Medicine Reports found people with higher levels of physical activity overall showed decreased depressive symptoms. These results were consistent across different countries and cultures and participants of all ages, from children to seniors.
“This study, and others like it, suggest physical activity can be a useful strategy not just for treating depression, but also for reducing the incidence in the first place,” says study co-author Felipe Barreto Schuch, PhD, of Universidade Federal de Santa Maria. “Seeing exercise as a source of joy, not pain, can help people overcome the barrier of low motivation.”
In terms of why short walking sessions might help, there are many theories about the mechanism at play. Hormones have a role, says Schuch, which means you could be boosting endorphins — associated with feelings of well-being — whenever you head out for a jaunt.
He adds that these walks could also lower inflammation in the body, which may also influence your mood and improve depression and anxiety levels. You could also benefit from a ripple effect, like better sleep and healthier eating, as a result of walking more often.
“Most likely, there are many factors at work when you go out for a quick walk, especially if you’re going outdoors and getting fresh air and seeing nature,” Schuch says. “In general, that will make people feel uplifted and happier.”
A short walk, especially if done quickly, can be classified as a type of “movement snack” that can fit into your daily breaks. If you’re even more limited on time, though, or you don’t have the space to walk, other movements could have a similar result.
All of it matters, even if you’re doing just 5–10 minutes at a time, and even a few seconds can help break up hours of sedentary time, says researcher Emmanuel Stamatakis, PhD, from the School of Public Health, University of Sydney. Walking counts, but so does sprinting up the stairs, carrying heavy shopping bags to your car instead of using a cart or cleaning your house.
For example, a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found it was the total amount of active time spent per day that made a difference, not doing all that exercise in a single session. That means doing 5 walks of 10 minutes each is the same as a 50-minute walk — and could possibly be more beneficial if those mini-walks reduce long sessions of sitting.
“The length of each of these bouts of activity can vary from a short and sweet few seconds to several minutes, ideally at a vigorous intensity,” he says. “For most people, the idea of exercise doesn’t include these short bursts, but they really do make a difference when you add them up. The more movement you get, the more benefits you see.”
Check out “Workout Routines” in the MyFitnessPal app to discover and log workouts or build your own with exercises that fit your goals.