A person’s walk is a good indicator of how he or she is feeling—a slumped, sluggish gait might indicate sadness or distress, while someone with a bounce in her step is clearly in high spirits. Now a small new study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry suggests that the reverse may work, as well. Changing your walk could just change your mood along with it.
Researchers at Queen’s University in Canada primed 39 undergraduate students to mimic the walk of depressed or happy people. Participants were shown a list of positive and negative words, and then walked on a treadmill while scientists measured their gait and posture.
Without the subjects’ knowledge, scientists manipulated their walks to be happier or more depressed by asking them to adjust according to a gauge. Certain students were asked to walk so the gauge moved to the right, and others, to the left—and for the scientists, each direction corresponded to a mood. Afterward, participants were asked to recall as many words as they could from the original list. Those who had been manipulated to walk in a more depressed manner remembered more of the negative words.
While we’ve known that walking as a form of exercise can be a mood booster and stress reliever, this suggests that even walking to lunch can have an impact on your mind. A depressed walking style (with less arm movement and shoulders rolled forward) might lead to a depressed mood, instead of simply being an indicator. So give it a try: Pull your shoulders back and stand up straight on your next stroll.
“If you can break that self-perpetuating cycle, you might have a strong therapeutic tool to work with depressive patients,” study co-author Nikolaus Troje said in a statement.