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Experts are making some noise about the mental and physical health benefits of TikTok’s ‘silent walking’ trend. Ryan J Lane/Getty Images
  • Silent walking has emerged as a wellbeing trend on TikTok.
  • Proponents claim that walking without devices or distractions reduces stress and allows them to think more clearly.
  • Experts say silent walking may counteract the stresses of daily living.
  • You can make silent walking a more mindful experience by appreciating your surroundings.

One of the first things you might do when going for a walk is reach for your headphones. But a new trend on social media is encouraging people to walk device — and distraction — free.

Rather than plugging in a podcast or bringing along a friend for company, the silent walking trend is about getting physical exercise without needing a device or other people to fill the silent void.

The benefits of walking are well documented, but proponents say silent walking may be particularly beneficial for your mental and emotional well-being.

The trend has grown in popularity since TikTok creator Mady Maio told social media users that her nutritionist had advised her to walk for 30 minutes a day “instead of doing insane cardio”. To amplify the benefits, her boyfriend suggested she walk distraction-free.

In a video, Maio says he challenged her to walk with “no air pods, no podcasts, no music.”

Since then Silent Walking has become a trending movement with countless people saying it gives them time alone with their thoughts and allows them to feel calmer and think more clearly.

Of course, walking without distractions is nothing new, but in today’s busy world, being present and distraction-free is becoming more and more of a rarity for many people and experts say it can help boost physical, mental, and emotional health too.

Therapist Tracy Richardson believes the popularity of silent walking is a direct result of our increasingly busy lifestyles. It’s a way for us to find some much-needed quiet.

“Silent walking has become more popular recently due to needing an escape from the 24/7, always-on, hustle culture we have evolved into as a society,” she reasons.

“There is so much ‘noise’ that surrounds us daily, and I believe it’s a kickback against this, reestablishing those conscious connections with the self and learning to slow down.”

One of the biggest benefits of silent walking may well be its ability to relieve stress and anxiety.

“Modern living often puts you into fight or flight mode and switches on the sympathetic part of your autonomic nervous system,” Richardson explains.

“This response should be reserved for acute situations where you need to run away or stand and fight – it’s not designed for chronic situations, and when it’s continually stimulated it stresses the body and mind.”

Richardson describes silent walking as an opportunity to step away from this stress, “drop back into your body” and notice how you are feeling.

“Silent walking brings you into the present moment so you are aware of yourself and your environment. It is the difference between being mindful and having a mind full,” she surmises.

Making time for mindfulness in this way may not only help you feel calmer and clearer-headed, it can have a knock-on effect on your physical health as well.

Richardson says this is because when we walk distraction-free we are reducing our exposure to stressors, such as noise.

This, she says, allows our body to get into the parasympathetic state of rest, restoration, and digestion.

The key way that silent walking and walking with distractions differ is that the latter is providing more and more stimulus. Depending on how stressed you feel at the time, this can compound feelings of anxiety and overwhelm.

“We have evolved so fast technologically and as a society that our brains are finding it more difficult to process the barrage of information we are exposed to on a daily basis,” points out hypnotherapist and psychotherapist Holly Hannigan.

“The benefits of walking while listening to music or a podcast or even walking with a friend can be huge for some people, but in reality, you might start talking to your friend about life’s annoyances,” she says. “Meanwhile, music can elicit strong emotions and memories, and podcasts can distract the mind, preventing you from finding focus and thinking clearly.”

Deep conversations and interesting podcasts can be stimulating in their own way, but if you’re walking because you need a mental break, removing distractions while moving your body can be a great way to (literally) step away from overload.

“When we retreat from screens, we often find we notice more than ever before. We take things in from a distance, allowing the eyes to fully accommodate light, distance, and depth of our surroundings instead of being strained on a screen a few inches away,” Hannigan explains.

In this sense, silent walks are more immersive and allow us to appreciate the nature that surrounds us. Studies show this can be particularly beneficial for both our mental and physical health.

A study published in 2022, for example, found that a one-hour walk in nature reduced stress-related brain activity. It also found that time spent in nature restored focused attention and produced reductions in blood pressure levels.

The key to reaping the benefits of silent walking is making it a more mindful experience. If you’re used to grabbing your headphones before you head out the door, make a conscious effort to leave them behind.

And when you’re out for a walk, “try to notice the feeling of the ground beneath your feet,” Hannigan advises. “Take moments to stop and look up at the sky, the depth of color, the shape of any clouds. If you see any beautiful flowers or leaves take a moment to touch them,” she suggests.

“All of these little things are an important part of mindfulness, taking notice of the details around you in the moment and keeping your mind focused on the here and now, rather than wandering off into thoughts about work, family or future worries,” Hannigan explains.

So, are silent walks as beneficial as they seem? It really depends on what you want at the time. If you want some stimulation while putting pedis to pavement, a riveting podcast or the company of a good friend may be a solid choice.

If, however, what you really need is a break from life’s daily stresses and an opportunity to rest, recharge, and reset, going distraction-free appears to have many mental and physical benefits and may be a better bet.