Psychological Benefits of Walking: Moderation by Company and Outdoor Environment

Authors


  • This study was the basis of Marcus Johansson's master's thesis in psychology. Marcus died under tragic circumstances before we could complete this article as planned. This article is dedicated to his memory and to his family. The surviving authors report no conflicts of interest.

Terry Hartig, Institute for Housing and Urban Research, Uppsala University, Box 785, SE-80129 Gävle, Sweden. Email: terry.hartig@ibf.uu.se

Abstract

Background: We aimed to assess moderation of affective and cognitive effects of a brisk walk by urban environmental characteristics and the immediate social context. Methods: We conducted a field experiment with time (pre-walk, post-walk), type of environment (park, street), and social context (alone, with a friend) as within-subjects factors. Twenty university students reported on affective states and completed a symbol-substitution test before and after each of two 40-minute walks in each environment. The routes differed in amount of greenery, proximity to water, and presence of traffic, buildings, and other people. Results: On average, walking per se increased positive affect and reduced negative affect. Feelings of time pressure declined to a greater extent with the park walk than the street walk. Revitalisation increased during the park walks to a greater degree when alone, but it increased more during the walk along streets when with a friend. We found an inconclusive pattern of results for performance on the symbol-substitution test. Conclusions: Some psychological benefits of a brisk walk depend on the influence of the immediate social context and features of the outdoor urban environment, including natural features such as greenery and water.

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