Walking for Mind/Body Well-Being: The Simplest Way to Help Employees Thrive

4-minute read

Putting one foot in front of the other is an excellent way to improve health and well-being. Walking isn’t trendy, but it’s a simple, accessible activity for most — and a natural choice for employer-sponsored wellness programs. Encouraging your workforce to walk each day helps them benefit from exercise that’s convenient, sustainable, and fun.

Better Brain Function and Mental Health

Decades of research underscores the many health payoffs of making moderate-to-vigorous physical activity — like walking — a regular habit. The positive impact on heart health, muscle and bone strength, and overall vitality is common knowledge. Brain benefits like these are less widely known but especially relevant in light of the global mental health crisis:

  • Improves structure and function. Exercise rewires the brain, building new connections in a process called neuroplasticity. This process helps us learn and adapt to change. At a moderate to vigorous intensity, exercise optimizes brain chemicals in ways that support learning, emotional regulation, better focus, and clear thinking.
  • Relieves depression, anxiety, and stress. Something as simple as a brisk walk outdoors can elevate mood and relieve stress for hours. Done regularly, exercise can be a powerful antidepressant. Physical activity is often recommended as an adjunct to clinical treatment for mental health disorders.
  • Builds resilience. Physical activity itself is a type of stressor that uniquely reduces the harmful effects of other stressors. An active, healthy lifestyle that includes activities like walking is an essential part of improving the ability to cope with — and bounce back from — challenges. 

Walking outdoors around trees, plants, and bodies of water brings even more dividends — above and beyond being active indoors:

Convenient, Adaptable, and Inclusive

Walking is simple. With just comfortable shoes and clothing, most folks can get up and move — in neighborhoods or parks, city blocks, or on a playground; any safe place will do. This is part of walking’s appeal as an employee well-being focus: It’s easy… no special skills needed. Individuals can make modifications as needed to match their physical ability, goals, and preferences:

  • Brisk walking is good to aim for, but a light stroll is beneficial, too — working up a sweat isn’t necessary
  • Those with lower fitness levels can start with short periods at an easy pace and build from there — being active, even in small doses, is beneficial
  • More fit participants can elevate intensity by walking uphill, up stadium steps, or with faster-paced intervals
  • People with mobility challenges may be able to walk with assistive devices (like a cane or walker) or in a lap pool.
How to Foster a Workforce Culture of Walking

Try these ideas:

  • Make walking breaks the norm. Managers and supervisors can be an example by making a point of being seen walking regularly and leading walking meetings.
  • Encourage walking groups. Looking forward to catching up with coworkers is a natural motivator to keep the habit going.
  • Offer a walking challenge. A walking challenge with multiple levels that participants self-select — like 6000, 7500, or 10,000 steps/day — gives everyone the chance to feel good about being more active. An optional friendly competition adds an element of camaraderie and working toward a shared goal.
  • Promote local events. Signing up for a 5K, 10K, or half-marathon inspires a consistent habit; some may want to train together, providing even more incentive. Noncompetitive Volkssport events are held in communities around the world. Subsidizing registration fees reduces barriers to participation; providing branded T-shirts raises camaraderie along with excitement. And events that support vital charities expand mental/emotional well-being — for participants and those they’re helping.
  • Give away walking gear. Drawings for athletic shoes, hats, Nordic walking poles, or smart watches during the program bring people together. Add weekly qualifying criteria such as logging 60 minutes, walking with a coworker, or posting photos of what they enjoyed on the way.
Taking Good Care of Your People

Workers everywhere are sending a clear message: Well-being is a high priority.

In APA’s 2021 Work and Well-being Survey, nearly 3 in 5 employees report detrimental effects of work-related stress, including these specific symptoms:

  • Cognitive weariness: 36%
  • Emotional exhaustion: 32%
  • Physical fatigue: 44% (up 38% from 2019).

People want to work for employers that not only communicate care about their physical and mental health, but actively support it with reasonable workloads, growth opportunities, and effective leadership. With burnout, stress, depression, and anxiety high, many are finding new jobs or leaving the workforce entirely.

Though you can’t remedy all factors with negative impact, investing in an organization-wide program and fostering a workplace culture of walking can spark employees to make this a regular resilience-building habit. In a world of uncertainty, a walking routine is something they can plan on… a daily uplifting gift to feel their best, to thrive in mind and body, on and off the job.


Beth ShepardBeth Shepard
Well-being consultant, educator, writer |National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach |Certified Lifestyle Medicine Coach|ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist |25+ years in wellness |Jazz enthusiast.


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