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2019 Orange County Department of Education Counselor Recognition Award

2019 Orange County Department of Education Counselor Recognition Award

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Publication: American Psychological Association, 2005, Washington D.C.

Amount of Daily Walking Predicts Energy,
Mood, Personality, and Health

Robert E. Thayer, Lisa Biakanja, Priscilla O’Hanian, Katerina A. T. Sorrell, Anna Balasanian, Amber S. Clemens, Jennifer O. Fasi

California State University, Long Beach

American Psychological Association, 2005, Washington D.C.


Exercise and mood are integrally related.  For example, short brisk walks have a primary mood effect of enhanced subjective energy and a secondary mood effect of reduced tension (Thayer, 1996).  In order to study these walking and mood relationships in a wider context, we recently focused on the amount of walking that people do in a whole day, and the relationship of this variable with a variety of other mood and personality variables.  In one previous study, our research group employed pedometers that measured the number of steps taken in a day, and we found that the amount of daily walking was significantly correlated with self-rated energy as assessed three times a day (Thayer et al. 2003).  In a second experiment (Thayer et al. 2004), using random assignment of different amounts of walking, we found a causal relationship in which walking more (20 min/day) increased energy during the day.  In both of these previous studies, self-rated tension levels were not related to number of daily steps, unlike that relationship earlier observed with short brisk walks.  
    The purpose of the present study was to determine if there is a wider set of correlations between the amount of walking each day and related mood states, including self-ratings of self-esteem, happiness, overall mood, and depression, as well as energy and tension.  In addition, we sought to identify any relationship between daily walking and nutritiousness of diet as well as perceived health because this could indicate that people eat better and experience better health when they walk more.  We also obtained ratings of the quality of sleep the night before to determine if this could have an effect on amount of walking the next day.     

In this research we employed a design in which data for each participant represented a separate study assessed over 20 days.  Evaluating these 37 separate studies together, we were able to assess the generality of the obtained effects.  Volunteer participants included 12 males and 25 females ranging in age from 18 to 65 years (M = 42).  These individuals wore Digi-Walker pedometers at their waist from the time they dressed in the morning until just before bed.  (This instrument has been shown to reliably assess amount of walking.)  At the end of each day participants completed several 9-point Likert-type rating scales based on their judgments of the whole day.  Ratings included: Energetic, Tense, Depressed, Self-Esteem, Overall Mood, Last Night’s Sleep, Health Today, Diet Today, Exercise Today, and Happy.  After making these self-ratings, they transcribed from their pedometers the number of steps taken on that day.

To summarize the main results, the amount of walking each day predicted a wide variety of positive psychological conditions.  Specifically, the correlations between number of steps and self-ratings indicated that when our participants walked more they rated their diet as more nutritious.  They also rated more highly their health, energy, overall mood, happiness, and self-esteem, in that order.  Ratings of the amount of exercise on a given day reliably predicted the number of steps subsequently recorded by the pedometer at the end of the day.  This in turn enhanced our confidence in the validity of the self-ratings.  Finally, looking at one possible antecedent to the amount of walking, the quality of previous night’s sleep served as a reliable predictor of the number of steps taken the following day.  With better sleep the night before, people walked more the following day.  Considering nonsignificant results, walking more did not reliably predict self-rated tension or depression.            
     Specifically, for each participant, Pearson r correlations were calculated on the basis of number of steps in a day versus each of the 10 variables rated at the end of the day (N = 20).  Correlations (37 separate correlations for each self-rated variable) were transformed to standard Z scores, and from this distribution, calculations were made of means, standard deviations and standard errors of the mean.  One-sample t tests of the means were then calculated, and the following t (36) values were obtained: Exercise Today, 10.19, p < .001; Diet Today, 5.00, p < .001; Health Today, 4.85, p < .001; Energetic, 4.63, p < .001; Overall mood, 4.11, p < .001; Happy, 3.19, p < .003; Self-Esteem, 2.67, p < .01; Last Night’s Sleep, 1.64 p < .04 (one-tail); Tense, 1.11, ns; Depression, .48, ns.  While the mean correlations for the 8 significantly predicted self-rated variables ranged from small to moderate (.14 to .66), they were predominantly positive across the participants.  Thus, the significant t values represent the sizable number of ratings that were made across 37 separate studies.
    Walking more is increasingly advocated by public health authorities as an excellent form of essential exercise, and recently in the popular media there is the widely advocated suggestion that people should walk 10,000 steps a day for optimal health.  There is little scientific evidence supporting this recommendation, and the “average” number of daily steps for Americans is unclear.  However, the data collected from our sample provide some evidence of typical walking amount: Mean number of steps per day of our 37 participants over 20 days = 9,217; Males averaged 9,829, Females, 8,923; Age group 18-25 averaged highest number of steps = 10,085, while age group 36-45 averaged lowest number = 8,482.  Compared with other walking estimates we have seen, it appears that our participants walked more than average.    

Walking more each day is related to a wide variety of mood and personality variables.  The more people walk each day, the more energetic they feel and the better their mood.  Although intuitively it would seem that walking more reduces energy, the opposite is true. More walking is associated with more energy.  In addition to more energy and better mood, self-esteem and happiness increase when people walk more.  Also, walking more appears to result in better nutrition.  Why this occurs is unclear, but it may be related to the energy connection (Thayer, 1996).  It is apparent that energy is an important variable as demonstrated by increased sleep being associated with more walking.  It should be noted that this correlational study does not establish cause and effect, but our previous experimental study (Thayer et al. 2004) did show that walking more each day caused increased energy.  Finally, as in previous studies by our research group, amount of walking did not appear to influence tension or depression ratings.  

Thayer, R.E. (1996).  The origin of everyday moods.  New York: Oxford University Press.
Thayer, R.E. et al. (2003). Walking, energy and mood are interrelated: An important health indication.  Paper presented at the American Psychological Association, Toronto, Canada
Thayer, R.E. et al. (2004).  Walking more each day elevates mood, especially energy, a central mood element.  Paper presented at the American Psychological Society, Chicago.