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Walking on sunshine: scoping review of the evidence for walking and mental health
  1. Paul Kelly1,
  2. Chloë Williamson1,
  3. Ailsa G Niven1,
  4. Ruth Hunter2,
  5. Nanette Mutrie1,
  6. Justin Richards3
  1. 1 Physical Activity for Health Research Centre, Institute for Sport, Physical Education and Health Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  2. 2 Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, UK
  3. 3 Charles Perkins Centre & School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Paul Kelly, Physical Activity for Health Research Centre, Institute for Sport, Physical Education and Health Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9YL, UK; p.kelly{at}


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.

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

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.

  • walking
  • physical activity
  • psychology
  • mental
  • health

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  • Contributors PK conceived the study. PK, NM, AGN, JR and CW designed the search strategy. CW conducted searching of databases. PK and CW screened records. All authors contributed to screening full texts. All authors led analysis and writing for at least one mental health outcome. PK and CW drafted the full manuscript, and all authors reviewed and approved final submission.

  • Funding This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.