Walking on sunshine: scoping review of the evidence for walking and mental health

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Abstract

Background/objectives

Walking has well-established positive relationships with, and effects on, physical health. In contrast, while poor mental health contributes substantially to global health burden, an overview of the benefits from walking has not previously been published. We aimed to scope the literature and present what is known, and highlight what is not known, about walking and mental health.

Methods

Design: Scoping review.

Methods

Data sources: Ovid (Medline), ProQuest, Web of Science.

Methods

Screening and reporting: 13 014 records were identified and screened by a team of researchers. Included full texts were analysed and reported according to mental health outcome.

Results

For the 8 mental health outcomes (identified a priori), there were a total of 5 systematic reviews and 50 individual papers included. Depression had the most evidence and existing systematic reviews were reported. Evidence for anxiety, psychological stress, psychological well-being, subjective well-being and social isolation and loneliness varied in volume and effectiveness, but no harmful effects were identified. There were no studies for walking and resilience. The setting and context of walking seems to be important variables.

Conclusion

The evidence base that suggests walking benefits mental health is growing, but remains fragmented and incomplete for some important outcomes. Policy and national guidelines should promote the known mental health benefits of increased walking and future research should directly address the gaps we have identified.

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