TikTok’s 'Silent Walking' Trend Could Actually Help Your Mental Health

A new TikTok trend encourages people to put down their headphones and take a walk—without any music, podcasts, or phone calls to keep them company.

While most people likely queue up their favorite audio entertainment for a stroll outside, many have deemed "silent walking" a mental health-forward option.

Some online creators say that walking in silence and simply noticing the world can lead to many mental health benefits.

“I feel like when I walk in silence, my senses are on high alert,” said a creator in an April TikTok clip. “I smell everything, I hear everything, I am seeing everything, and it’s so grounding for me.”

Another TikToker said she’s trying to make silent walking a movement—it was “mayhem” at first, but she said her 30-minute daily silent walks have become spaces for reflection and creativity.

Another user said that silent walking helped spark new ideas and clear her mind after being in a negative headspace.

Though some people critique the videos for making a “trend” of walking, experts say that, when done correctly, silent walks could actually be a great way for people to improve their wellbeing.

“The idea of silent walking in nature is very reminiscent of a practice in the mindfulness meditation tradition of mindful walking, or walking meditation,” said Rael Cahn, PhD, MD, clinical associate professor with the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and director of the Center for Mindfulness Science at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

The idea of silent or mindful walking is that people try to stay in the present moment—when people achieve this, silent walking can become a “very powerful practice,” Cahn told Health.

Here’s what experts had to say about why walking in silence can improve mental health and wellbeing, and how people can set themselves up for success before trying mindful walking.

How Silent Walking Helps the Mind

Taking time to unplug from distractions can be helpful for the brain.

Cahn explained that silent walking works by getting the brain out of the “default mode network." This term refers to the brain’s capacity to imagine the future, ruminate on past experiences, or daydream.

This default mode network doesn't allow people to be fully cognizant of the present moment or their current surroundings.

However, doing just that—focusing on the present during a meditation or a walk, for example—helps stop the brain from “constantly just chattering to ourselves,” Cahn said. This practice is typically called mindfulness.

According to Cahn, research has shown that mindful walking in nature can improve anxiety and depression symptoms. Taking time to focus on the present moment could also lower blood pressure or improve sleep.

To see the benefits associated with mindfulness, people have to sometimes avoid things that take them out of the present moment—like a podcast or a daydream.

But audio entertainment isn't the only "chatter" that may be going through someone's mind.

"Is [your mind] focused on the present moment?” Susan Evans, PhD, professor of psychology in clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine, told Health. “Or are you distracted—not by music or podcasts, but by some worry, rumination planning, and organizing?”
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To Engage With the Present, Pay Attention to the Senses

Fully experiencing the present moment isn’t always simple, however, the fact that silent walking involves movement may make mindfulness a bit easier.

Exercise is one easy way for people to get out of their heads, so to speak, and “[come] to [their] senses” instead, Cahn explained.

“By moving the body, engaging the body, there’s a natural engagement with the senses that the movement encourages on its own, even if you haven’t learned a thing about meditation or mindfulness,” Cahn said.

This means leaning into the senses—people might notice the breeze, the sun on their face, or other natural sensations as they walk.

This “art of noticing”—a phrase coined by author Rob Walker—could be a way to inspire joy and creativity.

“The benefits of what you experience when you really pay attention can be enormous,” Evans said.

The Health Benefits of Meditation
Deciding to Give Silent Walking a Try

For some people, walking silently may be an everyday occurrence, or it may feel restorative right off the bat. But that won’t always be the case, experts said.

“The fact that this has become part of our habitual way of being—multitasking—it can feel a bit uncomfortable to really slow down and just do one thing,” Evans said.

Silent walking may be difficult for people who often rely on music, podcasts, TV, or other distractions to avoid anxious or depressive thoughts, Cahn said. In those cases, it may be best to meet with a therapist to address those underlying issues, he explained.

Others may simply find it boring or uncomfortable at first.

“That’s something that will pass, and it just requires some persistence and staying with it,” Cahn said. “The richness of experience and the aliveness of the senses is not boring at all when you can really be present.”

Though it may take some time for a person to get used to silent walks, the process is made simpler by the fact that there aren’t many requirements.

Of course, it might be easier to have a distraction-free walk if a person is out in nature or in a park, as opposed to walking on a busy city street, Cahn said. But even walking to work can be made more mindful, Evans added, so long as a person is focused on keeping their mind in the present.

And there are ways to start even smaller if the practice seems too daunting.

“If you're in a house or if you're in an apartment, you can actually practice mindful walking in your living room or your bedroom,” Evans said. “Stand, and experience yourself in the standing position. Maybe [bring] your attention to your breath, and then slowly [begin] to lift your foot.”

Reframing mindful walking may also make it seem more manageable—hiking can be a "very meditative practice" when it's done in relative silence, Cahn said.

No matter how it’s done, the most important thing is that people are taking the time to be present if they’re walking without music or podcasts, Evans emphasized.

“When thoughts come in, worries, or planning or organizing, these kinds of things—the natural things we do when we're not focused—then it's about practicing,” she said. "It really is a practice to notice when your mind is going off, and bringing it back to the present moment."
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