Simple steps such as taking a stroll at lunchtime can help workers cut stress and anxiety as effectively as prescription medication, according to new research out of Victoria University.

A study by VU academic Professor Max de Courten evaluating 2000 participants in a number of different workplaces showed people who took the 10,000 step challenge and walked together with their colleagues enjoyed an upswing in their mental health.

“It was one of those things that you hear people say, but nobody has actually quantified it and done the research in a large scale setting,” Professor de Courten said.

“It’s very much live research, not in a lab.”

Professor de Courten, director of the Centre for Chronic Disease, said the ‘Happy Feet’ study found stress dropped by nine per cent, depression reduced by eight per cent and anxiety was down by five per cent for people who walked regularly.

The findings from the 100-day program open further questions about the long-term benefits of walking as a release from work pressures.

“We know our society has to do something to reduce stress and anxiety and things like that in the workplace,” Professor de Courten said. “What happens on day 101 or day 200 or a year later?

“We think there is likely to be a spill-over effect over time, so something we would like to do is go back a year later and see what the impacts have been.”

The study, published in BMC Psychiatry, noted the annual global costs of mental health problems were estimated at almost four trillion Australian dollars and expected to reach 7.4 trillion by 2030, placing mental illness costs above that of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.

“We all realise mental health issues in the population and the working population are getting ever bigger,” Professor de Courten said.

“We need to do something about it.”