If You Need an Excuse to Go for a Walk, Science Just Provided One

Want to improve your mood? This study recommends you get walking, even for a short time, and even if your surroundings aren't picturesque. 

A woman walked her dog in winter, both wearing matching black and white jumpsuits.
There is no scientific backing for dressing the same as your dog, but we imagine it can only help. (Photo FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)


If you have ever wanted a pick-me-up and an excuse to move a little, you finally have it. A new study from Iowa State University has found that simply walking for a short period of time can improve mood substantially. This effect remained even when attempts to make the walk less pleasant were instituted. Jeffrey Conrath Miller and Zlatan Krizan, professors in psychology, published their study in Emotion and suggest that walking by itself, rather than setting, pace, or other external factors, is the key element in the resulting mood enhancement. 

The study involved 232 undergraduate students who were first asked to either sit or walk around during a viewing of a familiar and unfamiliar environment. During the second phase of the study the participants were asked to tour a “drab” setting, again while either sitting or walking. In the final section, they simply walked on a treadmill in a small controlled room. Mood was measured by means of the PANAS (Positive And Negative Affect Schedule) test at various points before and after the activities were completed.

The results were clear: merely walking dramatically improved the moods of the students involved, especially when compared to the students who did a similar activity while seated. The effect remained even when the environment changed to the duller possibilities.

In the second part of the study, the researchers decided to add another element to see how strong the effect was: they tested whether the mood boost measured before could withstand the knowledge of something unpleasant while walking. Being that the test subjects were students who were participating as part of a research-participation course requirement; the dread-causing idea was:

“After the tour you will have 10 minutes to write an essay that is 2 full pages in length about the structural elements of the building”.

Even this terrifying idea, which was intended to sour their opinion of the walk they were taking, was unable to reduce the positive gains of walking by much, despite the expressed expectation by the subjects that they would feel worse. The students found out after their mood was measured that they also didn’t have to write the essay. This elation was not recorded.

The authors did, however, have to conceal the purpose of the actions from the subjects during the experiment to avoid corrupted data. Because of this they cannot say for certain that it was the walking that caused the improved mood, but they can rule out several other possible factors.

The idea that movement improves mood goes back to long ago. Charles Darwin himself supposed that: “Now with animals of all kinds, the acquirement of almost all their pleasures, with the exception of those of warmth and rest, are associated with active movements.” This study seems to support this. So if you want to feel better, get moving.

And if you need another reason to stretch your legs:

 

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Astronomers find more than 100,000 "stellar nurseries"

Every star we can see, including our sun, was born in one of these violent clouds.

Credit: NASA / ESA via Getty Images
Surprising Science

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.

Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.

These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.

The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.

This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.

The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.

"The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.

"This just hasn't been possible before."

Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.

New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.

"For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."

"While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."

Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.

Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.

"We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."

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This is the first episode of Just Might Work, an original series by Freethink, focused on surprising solutions to our biggest problems.

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