Want to fight stress? Walk THIS way!

We’ve all heard these common phrases… Fake it ‘til you make it.  Stop slouching – you’ll feel better.  Never let ‘em see you sweat.

Can your posture really improve your mood?  Much more than motherly advice or self-help mantras, these sayings are being backed by scientific data.  Science is constantly proving the mind-body connection and the more research that is conducted, the more these connections are revealed.

From the perspective of embodiment theory or embodied cognition, which proposes that the actions of the body can play a role in the development of thought and ideas, many aspects related to our knowledge and understanding are influenced by characteristics of our whole person.  For example, research has shown walking posture to have an effect on memory.

In another study, researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand explored the effects of walking posture, upright or slumped, on an individual’s response to a mental stress.  Their findings were published in the March, 2019 issue of the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry.  Study participants were randomly assigned to either walking posture group and instruments were administered to obtain a baseline.  These assessment tools included:

Psychological Assessment Tools

  • Variation of the Affect Valuation Index – to assess one’s affective state (i.e. enthusiastic, strong, content, happy, satisfied, rested, passive, dull, lonely, sad, fearful, hostile, astonished, surprised)
  • Feelings of Power Scale– to rate how dominant, in control, powerful and confident one feels
  • Stanford Sleepiness Scale – to rate level of perceived sleepiness from 1 (feeling active, vital, alert, or wide awake) to 7 (no longer fighting sleep, sleep onset soon; having dream-like thoughts)

Physiological Criteria

  • Galvanic skin response/perspiration
  • Skin temperature
  • Blood pressure

Once a baseline was determined, participants were observed and recorded walking on a treadmill in their usual walking style. Then, the assessments were repeated.

Next, the upright group was directed to walk while looking ahead to a mark on the wall at eye level.  Those in the slumped group were directed to walk while looking at a similar mark that had been placed on the treadmill’s stationary plastic area, below eye level.

Three minutes into the experimental walking, they were given a stressful task to complete while they continued to walk.  First, they were told to prepare a speech and that they were competing for a monetary prize.  Then, they were told to speak continuously for 5 minutes.  At the completion of this, participants got off the treadmills and sat down, where assessments were again administered.

Analysis of the data showed, while at baseline there were no significant differences between the groups, the overall findings revealed important correlations between walking upright and coping with psychological stressors.

The study found that the upright walking group:

  • Felt less dull, sluggish feelings
  • Felt more powerful after experimental walking
  • Felt less sleepy
  • Had lower levels of pain
  • Experienced less increase in systolic blood pressure
  • Experienced less change in galvanic skin response during and after the speech task.

Researchers conclude these findings support the theory that upright walking posture can help people to be more resilient to stress, compared to those with a slumped posture.  They point out that sweating is known to increase after a stressful psychological task.  Since there was no such increase in the upright walking posture group, researchers suggest the upright posture was, indeed, helping to reduce stress.

These results are preliminary and limited, as it was conducted in a lab and not in real world settings; however, the results warrant additional research.  Could it be that standing up straighter can help alleviate stress?  Could walking upright with a large arm swing improve depressive symptoms?  Time, and more research, may lead us to answers to questions such as these.

If you are interested in simple ways to reduce stress in your life, or are looking to begin a walking program as part of your wellness or stress management routine, talk to your doctor of chiropractic.  They can provide posture and lifestyle modification tips, so you reap the most benefits.

So, what are you waiting for?  Pull those shoulders back.  Walk with your eyes lifted to the horizon.  Let your arms swing a little more.  Your improved posture may do more for your mind and body than you know.



Hackford J, Mackey A, Broadbent E.  “The effects of walking posture on affective and physiological states during stress”.  Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry.  Volume 62, March 2019, Pages 80-87.

Cognition. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognition

Embodied cognition. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embodied_cognition